September was best auto sales month of the year

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

September was the best month of the year so far for U.S. auto sales as car manufacturers reversed a year-long downward trend and rebounded from hurricanes that put a damper on sales in multiple major markets.

GM, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Volkswagen posted strong sales numbers that were part of an industry-wide total of more than 1.5 million vehicles that were sold in September, thanks to a strong economy and a boost in demand in areas where vehicles were damaged by storms.

The result was 6.1 percent higher than last September’s sales figure, and it came after automakers experienced a nearly 2 percent decrease in August that was attributed partially to hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which slammed populous parts of Texas and Florida last month. September was the first month of the year in which auto sales were higher than they were during the corresponding month last year.

General Motors Co. led the pack with 279,176 cars and trucks sold in the U.S. in September, which was a nearly 12 percent increase over the same month last year. Ford Motor Co. sold 221,643 vehicles, a nearly 9 percent increase. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sold 174,266 vehicles, which was down almost 10 percent.

“September was the month the U.S. auto industry had been hoping for,” said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst for Autotrader. “Vehicle sales surpassed forecasts, thanks to a strengthening economy, August sales disrupted by and replacement demand created by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and attractive model-year-end deals.”

Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said, “The sales numbers for just about every manufacturer have come in well above expectations. As you look at the segment mix, there was strength across the board. ... Regardless of segment, vehicle sales were very strong.”

GM’s uptick was driven by a 17.2 percent increase at Chevrolet and a 9.4 percent increase at GMC.

“Our new crossovers from Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac have been very well-received, and Chevrolet had an outstanding month with the Silverado and Colorado,” Kurt McNeil, U.S. vice president of sales operations, said in a statement.

GM said 2017 was its best September for Chevrolet since 2004. Sales of Chevrolet’s newest crossovers, the Equinox and Traverse, were up 80 percent and nearly 51 percent respectively over the same month last year. GM also reported the GMC Terrain was up 61.2 percent for its best September ever, while the Cadillac XT5 was up 58.5 percent.

Ford said sales of its F-Series pickups rose by 21.4 percent, with 82,302 trucks sold. The company said demand remains robust for its Super Duty, with the premium Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum trim levels making up 52 percent of retail sales. Ford added that sales of its Explorer, Sport and SportTrac SUVs totaled 21,207, which was a 10.8 percent increase over last year and also its best September retail sales performance in 13 years.

“Ford sales gains came from trucks and SUVs, with truck sales gains of 19.9 percent and SUV sales gains for the month up 1.8 percent,” Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president, U.S. marketing, sales and service, said in a conference calls with analysts and reporters. “Our business was strong nationwide, with retail increases in 12 of our 21 sales regions, with particular strength in Houston.”

LaNeve added: “The only notable year-over-year decline was in Florida. As you know they were closed for a big chunk of the month mainly to power outages and some debris damage, and even Florida was coming on strong at the end of the month.”

Fiat Chrysler said its fleet sales, which represented 16 percent of its September 2017 total, were down 41 percent from last year. It said the reduction was part of a strategy to “reduce sales to the daily rental segment.”

The automaker said five of its U.S. vehicles — the Jeep Renegade, Chrysler Pacifica, Ram ProMaster and Ram ProMaster City — posted record sales figures in September. Sales of FCA’s Jeep Compass were up 75.2 percent, which the company said was enough to account for the compact SUV’s best sales month ever. FCA also reported that sales of the Dodge Durango increased by 45.2 percent, which was best September sales for the SUV since 2005.

Kelley Blue Book had projected that new overall vehicle sales would rise by 1 percent in September 2017 in a year-over-year comparison with September 2016, going from 1.43 million last year to 1.44 million last month.

Similarly, forecast a year-over-year increase in sales of 0.4 percent with a projection that 1.435 million new cars and trucks were sold last month. The final tally for the month was 1.52 million.

Among foreign-owned automakers, Toyota Motor North America’s U.S. sales were up 14.9 percent for the month. Nissan Motor Co.’s sales were up 9.5 percent.

Volkswagen of America experienced a nearly 23 percent sales increase as it tries to move beyond its diesel-emissions cheating scandal.

American Honda Motor Co. reported best-ever September sales totals for Honda and Acura, up 6.8 percent.

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing