Auto sales on track for best year ever

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

The best October auto sales since 2001 has the industry on pace to sell the most new cars and trucks ever in a single year and break the all-time record of 17.41 million vehicles set in 2000.

Automakers sold 1.46 million new cars and trucks in October, the highest total for the month in 14 years — and up 13.6 percent compared to the same month a year ago, according to Autodata Corp.

The strong numbers should continue through the end of the year as automakers offer more holiday and year-end incentives. Most car companies and industry analysts now predict 2015 full-year sales to reach anywhere between 17.4 million and 17.8 million vehicles.

“We’ve officially passed recovery mode and are now into record new-car sales,” said Karl Brauer, senior analyst with Kelley Blue Book. “All the key factors, including pent-up demand, low interest rates, easy credit and cheap gas were in place for unprecedented October sales.”

Red-hot demand for trucks and SUVs continues to drive sales. The top three vehicles in October were all pickups, led by Ford Motor Co.’s venerable F-Series. Industry truck sales rose 7.3 percent, while SUV and crossover sales soared 28.4 percent.

“Consumers’ demand for light trucks, whether they be SUVs, vans or pickups, seems almost insatiable,” said Tom Libby, manager, loyalty solutions and industry analysis for IHS Automotive.

A number of automakers, including Detroit’s three automakers, reported double-digit monthly gains. General Motors Co. had a 15.9 percent sales gain compared to October 2014; Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. was up 14.7 percent; Ford was up 13.4 percent.

“We are seeing October 2015 sales set new records, many breaking records set in October 2001 — but what a far different time,” said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst with

The auto industry in 2001 was reeling; the economy was suffering and was further crippled by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Zero-percent financing helped keep the industry rolling.

“Today, the country, the economy and the auto industry are in a far better place,” Krebs said.

Even Volkswagen AG, mired in an emissions testing scandal that has led to the stop-sale of its popular diesel cars, saw a sales gain of 0.24 percent last month.

Tesla Motors Inc. sold 2,200 cars in October, up 33.3 percent from a year ago. The sales numbers came out the same day the automaker reported losses of 58 cents per share, wider than the 56-cent average of analysts’ projections. Tesla will need to deliver 16,820 cars this quarter to reach the low end of its full-year target of 50,000 to 52,000 vehicles. Tesla says it plans to deliver 17,000 to 19,000 vehicles in the fourth quarter.

Ford in October posted record-average transaction prices, up $1,800 to $34,600 per vehicle.

The Dearborn automaker benefited from strong demand for its new vehicles. The recently refreshed Explorer was up 29.7 percent; sales of the new Edge rose 38.6 percent; and sales of the Mustang were up 121.2 percent. In total, Ford’s car sales rose 15.7 percent, its SUV sales rose 10.8 percent and its truck sales rose 13.8 percent.

Sales of Ford’s Lincoln luxury brand fell 4.5 percent. The new MKX and slow-selling MKT were the only Lincoln nameplates to post sales gains.

Starting Tuesday, Ford began its Friends & Neighbors two-month incentive program, which will offer significant discounts on most models, excluding Lincoln. The automaker said it doesn’t expect the program to increase its incentive spending.

“We’re in a strong market, but it’s a very competitive market… we anticipate this holiday season we’ll see considerable ad spending,” Mark LaNeve, Ford’s head of sales, said. “We wanted to stand out with very simple compelling offers we know customers appreciate.”

GM’s Chevrolet brand posted its best October sales since 2004. Chevy sales rose 17.6 percent, while GMC rose 18 percent and Cadillac 13 percent. Buick posted a 0.2 percent sales decrease.

The Chevrolet Silverado and Colorado had their best October sales since 2006, and the Malibu had its best October since 1996.

GM’s average transaction prices were $34,600, down about $130 year over year.

Fiat Chrysler continued its streak of year-over-year sales gains, pushing the number to 67 consecutive months with its best October since 2001. “Last month’s sales strength continued to be broad based for the company with eight FCA vehicles setting October sales records across three of our brands,” Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales, said in a statement.

The automaker was once again driven by its Jeep brand, which posted a 33 percent sales increase. Four Jeeps set sales records, including the Patriot, whose 56 percent increase was the largest sales gain of any FCA US vehicle during the month.