Sales of cars and trucks made by General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC soared in September, while crosstown rival Ford Motor Co. experienced a slight decline compared to a year ago.
GM's sales led the way for the Detroit automakers last month, up 19.4 percent compared to September 2013. The Detroit automaker topped Chrysler's 18.8 percent increase thanks to strong sales of pickups and sport utility vehicles. Ford sales declined 2.7 percent compared to a year ago.
Analysts anticipated GM and Chrysler to be the top performers in the industry for September, led by pickup truck and SUV sales. Both automakers were expected to take advantage of Ford's pickup truck production slowing due to its Dearborn Truck Plant being retooled
in September for production of its next-generation F-150.
Edmunds.com senior analyst Jessica Caldwell said GM especially took advantage of Ford's downtime with its "Truck Month" promotion last month, which included increasing advertising and offering special deals on its trucks.
"With Ford F-150 production on the shelf, GM had an easier path to showcase Silverado to truck shoppers," she said. "And with truck and SUV sales still chugging along at an eye-opening pace, GM has every reason to feel good about how it closed out the quarter."
GM on Tuesday reported sales of 223,437 cars and trucks, led by its Chevrolet and GMC brands that were up 20.4 percent and 27.7 percent, respectively.
Nearly 80 percent of retail customers who bought a large SUV during September purchased a Chevrolet or GMC product, according to GM. In addition, the Chevrolet Silverado had its best retail sales month since 2008 and GMC Sierra sales increased 25 percent.
Also adding to GM's truck momentum were the all-new 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon mid-size pickups, which the company started shipping to dealers in September. Both vehicles combined for less than 50 units, but GM said availability will grow throughout the fall.
"GM saw strength almost across the board in September, and outpaced the industry with the newest trucks and SUVs at exactly the right time," said Kurt McNeil, GM U.S. vice president of sales operations, in a statement.
Like GM, Chrysler's sales last month were driven by its SUVs and pickup trucks. The Jeep brand's 47.4 percent increase was the largest sales gain of any Chrysler brand, followed by Ram Truck up 34.8 percent, Chrysler up 14 percent and Fiat up 6.4 percent. Dodge, down 9.4 percent, was the only Chrysler brand to not increase sales from September 2013.
According to Kelley Blue Book, the Ram and Jeep brands have pushed Chrysler's market share up by a full point this year, to its highest point since 2007. The automaker sold nearly 1.6 million vehicles through September, up 14.7 percent from the same time period a year ago.
Chrysler's September sales marked its 54th consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains and its best September since 2005.
On the other side of the spectrum was Ford, which sold 180,175 vehicles last month. The Dearborn automaker cut back on incentives of its pickups to maintain dealer inventory while production of its aluminum-bodied F-150.
"Ford has a truck problem right now, and that's not something you can say very often," Caldwell said. "But the fact is that Ford is sitting on the sidelines while its competition is engaging a plush market of willing truck buyers."
The Dearborn plant was down for about a month. Production restarted in late-September after being shut down since Aug. 25.
Caldwell added the extended production halt is creating "a lot more pressure on the 2015 F-150 to perform — and perform well — once it hits showroom floors."
Despite the overall decline, Ford's Fusion mid-size car posted its best September ever, up 8.6 percent compared to September of 2013.
The company's Lincoln Motor Co. luxury brand posted its best sales month since 2010, thanks to the recent introduction of the new MKC crossover. Lincoln sales were up 12.5 percent compared to the same month a year ago.
"Lincoln produced its best sales results in seven years with the recent introduction of our all-new Lincoln MKC," John Felice, Ford vice president, U.S. marketing, sales and service, said in a statement.
Analysts predict September auto sales to rise about 10 percent compared to a year ago to more than 1.2 million vehicles sold, helping fuel expected sales of 16.4-16.6 million vehicles in 2014.
"Sales will remain strong and show healthy year-over-year improvement," KBB senior analyst Alec Gutierrez said. "Rising incentive spend in recent months has been more than offset by increasing retail transaction prices, signaling continued consumer demand."
Other automakers to report September sales Tuesday morning included Toyota Motor Corp., up 1.7 percent compared to September 2013; Nissan Motor Co., up 18.5 percent; and Honda Motor Co., up 12 percent.
Staff writer Michael Martinez contributed.