On the heels of a healthy summer for new-car sales, things actually improved in September, as the annualized sales rate bumped up against the 15-million-unit mark. Industry observers are crediting an improving overall economy, low interest rates, freer bank lending, and rising demand driven by an aging U.S. fleet.
Sales were up 13% over last September. Once again, Toyota and Honda posted outsized percentage increases, because they were laid low by tsunami-related supply problems in 2011; they were joined by the Volkswagen Group and the Koreans. Several of the automakers reporting small increases or flat sales, including GM, Ford, and Nissan, were working against inflated totals last year.
SEPTEMBER 2012 SALES RESULTS, AND PERCENT CHANGE VERSUS SEPTEMBER 2011.
GENERAL MOTORS +2%
General Motors lagged behind the industry average increase, but it was coming off an inflated year-ago total.
Small cars were the big news at Chevrolet, starting with the Cruze (+43%), which was far and away the division’s bestselling car, as well as the top-selling small car in America. The Sonic also continues to do well, and the Spark is off to a respectable start. The Volt again came close to 3000 units, four times the volume of last September. The truck story was not a happy one for the Silverado (-17%), the Tahoe (-47%), the Suburban (-38%), or the Traverse (-28%). The Colorado, though, continues to scoop up Ford Ranger buyers.
After swooning last month, sales of the Canyon bounced back in September, and the compact pickup recorded GMC’s largest sales increase for the month (+21%). The increase for the Acadia (+17%) had a bigger impact, volume-wise, and helped negate lower totals for GMC’s big SUVs.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY +0%
Like General Motors, Ford was not able to improve upon a quite good last September.
The F-series may have barely moved the needle versus last year (+1%), but it still sold some 55,000 units, nearly 20,000 more than the next-closest nameplate. The Escape (+15%) was once again America’s bestselling SUV. And the Focus (+91%) saw a big jump. Dragging down results were the Fusion (-37%), which is in the midst of a model changeover, the departed Crown Victoria, and a waning Edge (-8%).
Lincoln slipped back into the negative column in September, mostly due to the loss of the Town Car. Of the continuing models, the biggest movers were the MKS (-34%), the MKZ (+33%), and the MKT (+31%).
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES +42%
Toyota made a big jump over its depressed, year-ago figures, and came close to overtaking Ford in the process.
The Camry (+38%) remained the number-one passenger car, and the number three nameplate overall. The Corolla/Matrix (+43%) continues to hang tough despite its advanced age. The Prius doubled last September’s figure, and the RAV4 (+80%), the Highlander (+45%), and the Tacoma (+49%) were also up big over 2011.
Lexus sales increased by more than a third but the division wasn’t able to hold on to first place in the luxury derby. The new GS, the ES, and the RX continue to power the brand’s gains. The CT (-17%) and the IS (-12%) are a drag, but the loss of the HS barely registers.
Scion wasn’t able to double sales again but its 76% gain isn’t too shabby. The addition of the FR-S and the iQ provided a lot of that impetus, but the three other models all were up by 25% or better.
CHRYSLER GROUP +12%
Chrysler was the only U.S.-brand automaker to post a sizeable increase in September. And all its divisions contributed.
The arrival of the Dart more than made up for the departure of the Caliber and the Nitro. The Avenger (+89%) had a sudden spike, and the Journey (+41%) and Grand Caravan (+32%) did well. The Durango (-39%) and the Charger (-14%) were off.
The big Ram climbed from the number eight spot to number five among all nameplates.
AMERICAN HONDA +31%
With more new entries, Acura’s comeback outpaced Honda’s in September.
Accord sales and Civic sales were both up by exactly the same measure (+57%). Other big gainers were the Crosstour, of all things, (+86%); the Ridgeline (+51%); and the Odyssey (+29%). The Fit was flat, as was the Pilot. Meanwhile, the Insight (-52%) continues to sink.
The Koreans’ resumed their market-share-grabbing ways, despite the return of a full-strength Toyota and Honda.
The arrival of the Turbo boosted Veloster sales, and the new Azera is back from the dead. Mostly, though, Hyundai’s increase was a group effort, with the Elantra (+27%) earning a special shout-out, and the Genesis (-11%) and the Sonata (-5%) looking like laggards.
Continuing the pattern we saw last month, Kia SUV sales have fallen but its car sales more than made up the difference.
NISSAN NORTH AMERICA -1%
Nissan is in the same boat as the U.S. automakers: It enjoyed a boost last year due to Toyota and Honda weakness, so it’s having a hard time improving on those numbers.
The new Altima was flat, but that was enough to stay in third place behind the Camry and the Accord. The Versa fell (-32%) but the Cube, surprisingly, increased (+17%). The new Quest (+40%) made some headway, and the old Pathfinder (+39%) enjoyed a pop ahead of its redesign.
The new JX accounted for all of Infiniti’s increase, as the M (-45%), the G (-27%), and the EX (-59%) all slumped.
Mercedes-Benz remained comfortably ahead of a stagnant BMW and also topped an improving Lexus to regain the top spot among luxury brands. The sports cars all recorded big increases, albeit on small volumes. The updated GLK (+66%) shot ahead, but not so the renewed M-class (-2%) or the GL (-23%).
Suddenly smarter? The tiny two-seater is back above 1000 units.
Another 4 Maybachs rolled out of dealerships and into the history books.
VOLKSWAGEN GROUP +32%
All members of the Volkswagen Group did well in September.
Two VW back benchers, the Eos and the Routan minivan, were, unsurprisingly, in the down column; more significantly, the Jetta (-2%) seems to have stalled. Otherwise, things looked very good for VW, with the Passat and the Beetle adding market share, and several other models gaining ground as well, including the Tiguan (+35%), the Golf (+30%), the Touareg (+26%), and, reversing last month’s decline, the CC (+22%).
Big (incentive-fueled?) gains for the aging A3 (+77%) and Q7 (+95%), along with more organic growth for the new A6 (+84%), kept Audi moving ahead. Sitting out the increase were the TT (-17%) and the Q5 (+1%).
Subaru posted another nice increase over its low-inventory, 2011 figures. The new Impreza (+82%) gained the most, followed by the Outback (+39%). The BR-Z and the XV Crosstrek aren’t yet a significant factor.
BMW GROUP +4%
The Gran Coupe and the M6 continue to juice 6-series sales (+80%), but other than a few more Z4 sales, the news for the brand’s other cars was all bad. Worst was the 7-series (-47%). Things would have been much worse overall were it not for the SUVs, where the new X1 added 1570 units — at no cost at all to the X3 (+64%).
This month, the Countryman (+66%) accounted for virtually all of Mini’s growth.
For all its popularity, the CX-5 didn’t quite make up for the loss of the CX-7 at Mazda, not to mention collapsing sales of the CX-9 (-52%) and the Mazda5 (-51%). Similarly, healthy sales of the Mazda3 (+57%) battled big losses for the Mazda6 (-66%).
JAGUAR LAND ROVER +21%
Jaguar flipped from positive to negative in September, as all three models declined.
The good news at Suzuki in September was that the SX4 enjoyed a sales increase; the not-so-good news is that it was only 1%.
TOP 10 BESTSELLING NAMEPLATES IN SEPTEMBER
1. Ford F-series 55,077
2. Chevrolet Silverado 36,425
3. Toyota Camry 34,252
4. Honda Accord 29,182
5. Dodge Ram 25,973
6. Chevrolet Cruze 25,787
7. Nissan Altima 24,448
8. Ford Escape 23,148
9. Toyota Corolla/Matrix 23,026
10. Honda CR-V 22,268