Where auto sales stumbled in August, September brought a welcome resurgence. Although fewer cars and truck were sold in September compared to August, looking at things in the context of the historic ebb and flow between months, the September sales work out to an annual rate of 12.2 million units. Compare that to August’s 10.8-million rate, and it’s a happy figure indeed. In fact, it’s happier than the cautiously hopeful pace we were seeing back in spring and early summer, when sales were in the 11-million-unit arena. The industry’s performance in September is its most robust since the government-incentive-fueled Cash-for-Clunkers bonanza last August.
For this month’s run-down, we’ll revert to year-ago comparisons. But note that in September ’09, much of the industry was in a post-Clunkers lull, so the percent increases — an average of 29% — somewhat overstate the robustness of this September.
GENERAL MOTORS +22% (Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC only)
A rebounding market for pickup trucks was good news for GM, which has recently introduced new heavy-duty models. The strength of pickup models is particularly reflected in the results for GMC.
LaCrosse sales doubled, Enclave was up 60%, but the Lucerne fell by half compared to last year. So far at least, the new Regal is still Buick’s smallest-volume car.
Despite the addition of the coupe, CTS sales barely budged (+8%). Instead, Caddy’s strength came from truck side — make that the crossover side, with all credit going to the SRX (+41%) as the Escalades declined.
The Aveo’s 244% increase is an attention-getter, but inventories where way down after Clunkers last year; still it’s up by 63% over last month. The Malibu (+55%) was the only other car in positive territory. Truck, though, had lots of models in the plus column, lead by the Equinox (+70%) and the Silverado (+66%); only the big utilites, Tahoe and Suburban, declined.
Like Chevrolet, GMC saw a drop in demand for big SUVs, but otherwise it was all good news here. The Terrain more than tripled year-ago volume, and was ahead of August as well, while the Sierra and even the Canyon increased by more than half.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY +46% (excluding Volvo)
Last month, Ford sales slipped by less than the industry average, and that less-bad performance allowed it to pass Toyota and move into second place in the sales race. In September, Ford’s much-better-than-average 46% sales increase over last year (and 2% gain over last month) put it solidly in second place, and should allow Ford, with 1.5 million vehicles year-to-date, to finish the year ahead of Toyota, which is now at 1.3 million. The new Fiesta has been getting lots of attention, but with Ford, it’s impossible to have a good month of sales unless the F-series turns in a good performance, and that was the case here.
A 40% increase in F-series sales was huge, but the restyled Edge (+186%) also had a big month, as did the Transit Connect (+134%), albeit on lesser volume. All cars were in positive territory.
The Mariner and Mountaineer pushed Mercury into the plus column.
Like its Ford counterpart, the Lincoln MKX was strong in September (+76%), but so was the never-say-die Town Car (+149%).
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES +17%
Toyota’s increase over last year was less than the market’s overall. The figure would have been better, but both Lexus and Scion declined, dragging Toyota down a bit. As we saw at GM and Ford, trucks did better than cars.
Unlike GM’s and Ford’s big pickups, Toyota’s Tundra (+10%), didn’t participate fully in the truck surge this month. The news was better for the redesigned 4Runner (+437%) and the not-at-all-redesigned FJ Cruiser (+245%), which saw big gains off of last year’s very weak numbers. With their higher volumes, the RAV4’s jump (+41%) and the Sienna’s (+54%) were a lot more meaningful. Meanwhile, the Camry almost exactly matched prior-month sales, and maintained its position as the bestselling car, just behind the Ford F-series and the Chevy Silverado pickup.
The GX followed the 4Runner with a big increase (+123%) over a small previous number, but more significant was a decline for the RX. The ES sedan was up (+21%) but the IS was down (-27%) and the HS was down even more (-43%). Still, the HS increased over last month and nearly tied the LS.
Scion continues to wait for fresh product — and the new tC will be here soon.
CHRYSLER LLC +61%
Chrysler’s roller coaster climbed high in September, with the highest year-over-year increase of any major player. For some models, sales were several times greater, but that’s compared to last year’s wiped-out inventories; most models actually are down from last month. Still, Chrysler did pass Honda, taking the number four position — although Honda is still ahead for the year. (And remember that, in the year-to-date race, an estimated one in four Chryslers are going to fleets, the highest percentage in the industry).
So out-of-kilter were Chrysler inventories last September, that the 300, with essentially the same sales as last month, appears to be the worst performer (-13% versus a year ago), while the PT Cruiser, having dropped by a quarter compared to August, nearly tripled last September’s figure. The Sebring, +221% from last year and also up slightly from August, improved by either measure.
The Caliber results were nothing special by recent history, but look awesome (+652%) next to last September, after Cash-for-Clunkers wiped out inventory. All Dodges were ahead of last year, and the weakest-looking versus year-ago, the Charger (+17%), actually had the strongest increase over August (+34%).
No vehicle better illustrates the dichotomy between increase over last year and decrease versus last month than the Compass. Sales for September 2010 were nearly ten times those of last September, yet fell by 43% compared to August. To see more legitimate growth, look at the Grand Cherokee, up by 95% over last year and 71% over last month.
The big Ram pickup (+26%) didn’t enjoy the same year-over-year boost as some of its competitors, but the Dakota’s increase looks great (+141%)-that is, until you see that it dropped by 39% versus last month.
AMERICAN HONDA +26%
Honda’s year-over-year gain was just under the industry average.
The Fit’s increase (+46%) was a bounce off of its post-Clunkers swoon, while the Pilot’s similar figure (+48%) looks more genuine. The Accord remained in the number four spot overall, while the Civic dropped back behind the Corolla/Matrix, the Sonata, and the Altima.
Continuing recent trends, the MDX (+84%) was a big winner, while the ZDX, with 251 units sold, added very little to Acura’s total.
The Koreans enjoyed a robust increase over last September, and it allowed them to stay ahead of Nissan and maintain fifth place in the U.S. market. Looking at the year-prior comparisons, Hyundai looks better than Kia, but compared to month-prior figures, Kia actually did a little bit better.
Not only did the new Sonata easily blow past last year’s volume (+161%), it also slipped by the Honda Civic and very nearly broke into the Top 5 bestselling nameplates; it was just edged out by the Toyota Corolla/Matrix.
Kia sold ten times as many of its new, redesigned Sorento as it did last year, making the Sorento easily the brand’s bestselling nameplate.
NISSAN NORTH AMERICA +34%
Nissan was able to outpace the industry, growing sales by more than a third. Infiniti didn’t do quite as well, but it was not much affected by Cash-for-Clunkers a year ago, and thus it didn’t have such a dead post-Clunkers September.
Unlike many others, Nissan saw a bigger increase in the sales of its cars than its trucks. The Frontier looked good (+80%) but the Titan was weak (+9%). The Altima did well (+65%), but still was outsold by the Sonata. The Cube had Nissan’s biggest drop versus year-ago (-32%), but was up 60% over last month.
All Infiniti models beat last year, but none by a bigger margin than the new M (+227%).
VOLKSWAGEN OF AMERICA +14%
The Golf and friends had VW’s biggest gain (+253%) but then it was coming off a big post-Clunkers trough. The not-so-New Beetle (-39%) was the biggest decliner.
Q5 sales doubled, putting Audi’s popular crossover within striking range of becoming the brand’s bestseller, as the A4/S4 fell back slightly (-18%).
BMW NORTH AMERICA 23,138 +21%
The X5’s new engine’s powered it to a big sales increase (+161%), with the X6 not far behind (+122%). The 3-series also gained (+37%) but the 1-series dropped (-24%).
Mini enjoyed an uptick ahead of a freshening coming this fall.
Steady as she goes: Rolls-Royce delivered 26 cars in September, versus 27 last September, and 26 in August.
SUBARU OF AMERICA +47%
After suffering its first decline in a long time in August, Subaru returned to its winning ways in September. Predictably, the Outback led the way (+91%), while just as predictably, the Tribeca (-58%) failed to participate in the fun.
DAIMLER A.G. +18%
The E-class (+47%) continues to drive Mercedes ahead but the S-class (+55%) put in a star turn of its own this month. The brand’s aging fashionistas — the CL, CLS, and SL — were all in negative territory.
Another down month for Smart.
The 3 Maybachs sold in September was half as many as last year.
Mazda just outpaced the overall market, thanks to good performances by its crossovers and the all-important Mazda3.
Mitsubishi managed a minor gain for September, but compared to its August results, the increase actually looks better (+16%). If you’re looking at year-over-year figures, the Outlander (+104%) was the big winner, but if you looking at the month-to-month comparison, the Lancer deserves the kudos.
Despite the improving overall picture, Volvo sales declined versus the brand’s figures from a year ago, when it was owned by Ford.
JAGUAR LAND-ROVER +11%
XJ sales were all but nonexistent at the end of the previous model’s run last September, so this month’s look great by comparison (+707%), but it’s worrying that the XJ declined by nearly a third from its August total.
Land Rover +12%
The LR4 doubled its year-ago pace, but only the Range Rover is ahead of last month.
The non-traditional Porsches — the Cayenne and the Panamera — gave the brand its year-over-year increase.
Only the Equator pickup managed an increase over last year (+64%), but its 118 units — and the Kizashi’s 477 — weren’t enough to combat declines for the Grand Vitara and the SX4.
Saab was on a death watch last year, so maybe this jump isn’t a great comparison. More heartening, perhaps, is the fact that sales more than doubled compared to just last month.
TOP 5 BESTSELLING NAMEPLATES (and rank last month)
1. Ford F-series 47,433 (#1)
2. Chevrolet Silverado 32,185 (#2)
3. Toyota Camry 30,769 (#3)
4. Honda Accord 24,127 (#4)
5. Toyota Corolla 21,060 (#6)