September new-car sales rebounded to their perkiest pace since April, surprising industry watchers, and, frankly, anyone else who is at all aware of the overall economic picture, which seems to be fading back into recession. Pent-up demand seems to be the consensus explanation for the unexpected surge. That would appear to be more business demand than consumer demand, given the jump in truck sales. The good news is that automakers didn't have to buy those sales with big incentives, as incentive spending declined slightly (although it increased at Toyota and Honda). Overall volume beat last September's total by 10%.
SALES RESULTS FOR SEPTEMBER 2011, AND PERCENT CHANGE VERSUS SEPTEMBER 2010
GENERAL MOTORS +20% (continuing nameplates only)
General Motors doubled the increase of the industry overall. Truck sales zoomed ahead by 34% at GM, juiced by incentives. They far outpaced the increase in sales of passenger cars. Like last month, all four GM divisions were in positive territory -- but just barely, in the case of car-heavy Buick and Cadillac.
The Suburban (+83%), Tahoe (+63%), and Silverado (+36%) speak to the strength of big trucks this month, while the Equinox (+33%) and the Traverse (-1%) cooled relative to August. On the car side, the Malibu declined (-32%) and the Cruze fell back below 20,000 units but was still Chevrolet's bestselling car.
The LaCrosse decline (-9%) and the Enclave gain (+10%) just about cancelled each other out. The expanding Regal lineup (+87%) just overcame the drop suffered by the departing Lucerne (-45%).
The Escalades were up slightly, but the SRX was up more (+22%), and the CTS was up most of all (+24%). Together it was enough to offset the declines in the DTS and STS.
A good month for trucks is going to be a good month for GMC. The Yukon XL (+67%) did the best, followed by the Yukon (+45%), the Terrain (+45%), and the Sierra (+26%), as the Canyon collapsed (-41%).
FORD MOTOR COMPANY +13% (Ford and Lincoln)
The dichotomy between car and truck sales was starkly visible at Ford, where cars declined by 9% while trucks and crossovers pushed the company to a 13% overall gain.
Leading the truck charge, as ever, was the F-series, which topped 50,000 units. The new Explorer tripled the run-out volume of the old model. Even aged entries like the Escape (+41%) and the Ranger (+88%) did well -- although Ranger buyers (many of them businesses) likely rushed to purchase before production ends later this year.
The drop in Focus sales (-24%) was blamed on low inventories, but the Taurus's tumble (-38%) had no easy answer. On the plus side were the Fusion (+23%) and the Fiesta (+30%).
After a couple of positive months, Lincoln returned to its losing ways in September, although the MKZ had a good month (+54%).
CHRYSLER GROUP +27%
Chrysler surged again in September, managing to stay ahead of Toyota -- for what may be the last time. The Ram pickup was the hero product -- reaching fourth place overall, just behind Ford and Chevy's big pickups and the Toyota Camry. Chrysler's incentive spending remains the highest of the major players, but is not as high as it had been.
The 200 continues to sell at nearly twice the rate of the Sebring, but the Town & Country (+16%) reclaimed the top spot among Chrysler models. Sales of the new 300 jumped by half.
All Dodge cars dropped, save the Challenger (+6%) That lost volume was offset by increases for the trucks. The overall brand increase really came with the addition of the Durango.
The big Ram pickup was a big beneficiary of resurgent big-pickup sales.
The restyled Compass is selling at four times the (admittedly pathetic) rate of its predecessor, but it's not that far ahead of the Patriot. The Grand Cherokee (-3%) is showing its first signs of weakness, but the Wrangler (+47%) looks strong.
The Fiat 500 fell back slightly from it August total.