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.
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 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.
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES -18%
Toyota’s sales decline worsened in September, despite increased incentive spending (which was still less than the domestics). Toyota’s Bob Carter has said that next month, Toyota will turn the corner and move into positive territory. We shall see.
Camry sales fell quite a bit from last month’s total, but were still enough to (just barely) hold onto the number 3 spot for all nameplates. The new version just began arriving at the end of the month. What hurt was the drop in sales of the RAV4 (-48%), the Corolla/Matrix (-23%), and the Prius (-18%).
The new tC zoomed ahead this month (+79%), but the four-door models dropped again. The new iQ has yet to hit dealerships.
Nissan division was largely a continuation of August. The Altima had another huge month (+22%), ending up just shy of the Camry in the midsize sedan race, and in the number 5 spot for all nameplates. The Maxima (+26%) and the Versa (+68%) both bettered their previous gains. The Cube and the Z both fell off even worse. Most of the trucks were better than last year, lead by the Rogue (+29%).
The G (+14%) and the QX56 (+47%) were the only gainers for Infiniti.
AMERICAN HONDA -8%
Honda continued to suffer in September, although its drop versus a year ago was not as severe as in August.
The Pilot (+16%) and the CR-Z (+7%) were the only two Honda models that sold more than last year. Every other model dropped, some precipitously: Civic (-47%), Insight (-53%), and Ridgeline (-86%). The Accord fell by 21%, and continued to trail competitors such as the Camry, the Altima, and the Fusion.
The TSX (+38%) again had the strongest showing of any Acura and it was the only model in positive territory. Once again, the RL and the ZDX had the biggest drops, and both were under 100 units.
HYUNDAI – KIA +14%
The Koreans again outpaced the industry. Both brands touted a September sales record. Hyundai also claimed that only 10% of its sales were to fleets.
The Sonata (-12%) slipped again this month, putting it behind not only Camry and Altima but also Accord and Fusion. The new Elantra (+43%) not surprisingly is showing growth, but the new Accent (-7%) is not. The Veloster just started arriving at dealerships midway through the month.
Optima volumes continue to run at three times their year-ago level. The Sedona minivan (+40%) once again is the surprising next-biggest gainer. Kia’s sales increase came without much help from the Rio, which is in the midst of a model changeover.
VOLKSWAGEN GROUP +31%
The new Jetta (+40%) continues to do well. The big deal this month, however, was the long-awaited new Passat, which has vaulted into the number two spot ahead of all other VW models, save the Jetta.
Audi enjoyed its best ever September, thanks to the new A6 (+43%), the new A8 (running at better than 4 times meager 2010 volumes), and the addition of the A7. The RS helped TT sales more than double. Both the Q5 and the Q7 declined, however.
BMW GROUP +11%
The new X3 is zooming along, but it’s still at only half the pace of the X5, which is holding pretty steady (+7%). The 5-series (+43%) continues to do well but the 6-series has taken off with the addition of the new coupe. The Z4 remains on a roller coaster, up this month (+40%) after plummeting in August and soaring in July. Meanwhile, the 1-series (-42%) can’t catch an updraft.
Even with the Countryman, Mini had another down month.
The results at Rolls-Royce exactly matched those of the prior month, with 30 cars sold, against 43 last year.
Mazda soared in September, with nearly all models participating — with the notable exception of the Miata (-44%). The CX-7 (+91%) and the CX-9 (+74%) were the star sellers, but the Mazda5, Mazda2, and Mazda6 all increased by better than half.
The new CLS and the new SLK are far exceeded their year-ago totals, but not to the same degree as last month. More important for Mercedes’ overall picture was that the C-class (+32%) was able to swing into the positive column. Meanwhile, the Sprinter (+121%) remains a quiet success.
Last month it appeared that Smart’s sales declines were slowing. This month: finally, the turnaround!
Maybach seems to have settled in at a consistent 4 cars per month, whereas last year Maybachs were flying off dealer lots at a rate of 5 cars per month.
SUBARU OF AMERICA -2%
Subaru saw three models increasing this month, and two declining. The Legacy (+5%) and the Forester (+2%) both added a little more than 100 sales — so too did the all-but-forgotten Tribeca. But the brand was dragged down by the Outback (-7%) and the Impreza (-9%) — the latter is about to be replaced with a new version.
Mitsubishi’s sales increase this month was a lot more credible than the wild gains we had been seeing. Nearly all the upside was due to the addition of the Outlander Sport.
Suzuki chalked up another positive month in September, even though the Kizashi slipped at bit.
Sales of the 9-3 collapsed (-82%) while those of the 9-5 and 9-4X have barely gotten started, which lead to Saab’s scary decline in September. But it’s not nearly as scary as the parent company’s financial problems.