Auto sales were mostly unaffected by the 16-day federal government shutdown at the beginning of the month. )
U.S. auto sales accelerated through the second half of October, displaying resilience and momentum that likely will propel them through the last two months of the year and toward their best finish since 2007.
“The strength of sales reflects strength to underlying consumer demand and we don’t expect that to change,” General Motors Co. Chief Economist Mustafa Mohatarem told industry analysts and reporters Friday.
October’s sales jump, up 10.6 percent from the same month in 2012, and 6.1 percent from September, came despite consumer uneasiness that kept many from showrooms during a 16-day federal government shutdown that ended mid month. Carmakers sold about 1.21 million cars and light trucks last month, according to Autodata Corp. figures released Friday.
Industry experts say this year’s sales are on pace to hit 15.5 million — or even more — compared to just under 14.5 million in 2012. Sales totaled 16.1 million in 2007, before the start of the Great Recession and the near collapse of the auto industry that forced two of Detroit’s three automakers into bankruptcy.
Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.’s Toyota division, said sales started slow but picked up steam as October wore on, particularly in the Washington D.C. area. Toyota’s sales rose 8.8 percent from a year ago. “At the beginning in the month, we didn’t know what to expect,” he said.
Most of the major automakers reported higher October sales compared to the same month in 2012. Trucks, SUVs, midsize and full-size sedans sold well, as gasoline prices fell back toward $3 a gallon, and consumer demand remained strong.
All of Detroit’s carmakers posted October sales increases, led by GM’s 15.7 percent jump — a figure that exceeded the expectations of industry analysts.
GM’s Kurt McNeil, vice president of U.S. sales operations, said the positive fundamentals of the economy, such as lower fuel prices and interest rates and availability of consumer credit, overcame all the political noise in Washington, D.C.
Edmunds.com senior analyst Jessica Caldwell said some financially savvy consumers may be waiting for sweeter deals that show up around the holidays.
The car companies and analysts don’t expect any slowdown in pent-up consumer demand. Consumers are likely to continue heading to dealerships in November and December.
“Consumers are back buying cars not just because they need them, but also because they want them,” said Jesse Toprak, senior analyst for research firm TrueCar.com said in a telephone interview.
Domestic automakers, including sales from luxury electric carmaker Tesla Motors Inc., upped their collective market share over the foreign automakers by 1.5 percentage points, to 46 percent. GM gained 0.8 percentage points of share to 18.7 percent. Toyota, American Honda Motor Co. Inc., Kia Motors America and Hyundai Motor America each lost market share in October.
GM reported U.S. sales of 226,402, with all four of its brands posting increases. Gains were led by growing sales of its refreshed 2014 Chevrolet Malibu midsize car and 2014 Chevy Corvette Stingray coupe arriving in showrooms that helped push Corvette sales up nearly 237 percent to 3,929.
Autodata reported Ford Motor Co. sales surged 13.9 percent to 191,267 (191,985 by Ford’s own count). It was the Dearborn automaker’s best October retail sales month since 2004. Sales of the Fusion sedan jumped 71 percent, its best October showing, and sales of Ford’s struggling Lincoln brand sales rose 38 percent. Chrysler Group LLC sales were up 11 percent, to 140,083, marking the 43rd straight month of year-over-year sales gains, as all brands but Fiat posted gains. Chrysler also began shipping its delayed new Jeep Cherokee and tallied 579 sales in October.
Lower gas prices also helped drive sales of pickup trucks and full-size SUVs during the month. GM’s full-size utility sales were up 44 percent, while combined sales of GM’sChevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups were up about 11 percent. Sales of GM’s new 2014 trucks also soared 62 percent over a slow September. Sales of Ford’s F-Series jumped 12.9 percent. The F-Series again was the best-selling vehicle in America. Chrysler’s Ram pickup sales also were up 18.3 percent to nearly 30,000 last month, while sales of the Dodge Durango large SUV rose 58.5 percent.
“It’s almost like a perfect storm right now for truck sales to be strong,” Caldwell said, citing pent-up demand, low gas prices and attractive models.
On the flip side, some small car and hybrids sales stalled in October as gas prices fell.
Total sales for 2013 through October fell just short of hitting 13 million at 12.99 million. Analysts such as Caldwell and Toprak are predicting a strong final two sales months of the year, with December setting up to be particularly strong.
Still, “it will be hard to beat last December because there was a lot of pent up demand because of Hurricane Sandy,” Caldwell said.