Pickup sales and cash on the hood drive Oct. sales

Detroit automakers reported hefty pickup truck sales increases in October, with Ford Motor Co.’s F-150 driving that automaker to an overall sales increase for the month. But strong sales for trucks at General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles weren’t enough for those companies to overcome a softer market, and they posted overall sales declines compared to the same period a year ago.

Overall U.S. sales were stronger than forecast, slowing 1.3 percent in October compared to the same period a year ago, according to Autodata Corp. data. An anticipated sales bump caused by consumers replacing vehicles washed out in hurricanes slowed earlier than expected. Instead, the major factors driving buyers to dealer lots were the generous incentives offered by carmakers looking to boost sales sales numbers.

Ford Motor Co. sales climbed 6.4 percent in October compared to the same month a year ago, due in large part to a 15.9 percent increase in F-Series deliveries. Ford sold 199,698 vehicles; 75,974 of those were F-Series trucks.

Fiat Chrysler reported a 13.2 percent drop compared to the same month a year ago, due in part to a 43 percent decline in fleet sales compared to a year ago. GM sales fell 2.3 percent, due largely to slumping Buick and Chevrolet deliveries.

GM reported it sold 252,614 vehicles last month. GMC was the only GM brand to post an increase, up 4.6 percent and driven by a 25.5 percent increase for the fullsize Sierra pickup. GMC’s midsize Canyon pickup was up 2.7 percent. At Chevrolet, the full-size Silverado posted a 6.8 percent gain, but the midsize Colorado was down 5.6 percent. Overall, GM’s pickup sales were up 9 percent

Some of GM’s starkest declines were among sedans. At the Buick brand, the LaCrosse sales fell off 43.7 percent and the Regal was down 40.5 percent. At Chevrolet, the Cruze fell off 35 percent while the Malibu was down 9.3 percent.

While GM’s gains were mostly in the SUV and crossover segments, the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt had its best month so far with 2,780 deliveries. The plug-in hybrid Volt, however, was down 37.8 percent with only 1,360 deliveries.

“Even though Bolt had its best month ever, the reality is consumers just don’t want small or highly fuel-efficient vehicles from Chevrolet,” Rebecca Lindland, an automotive analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said in a statement.

Fiat Chrysler’s Ram pickups posted the best October ever, up 0.7 percent with 44,200 deliveries. The Ram brand however, was down 3 percent overall. Jeep was another strong point for FCA in October, with the Compass up 80.6 percent — its best October ever — and the Cherokee up 19.3 percent.

Mark LaNeve, Ford’s vice president of U.S. marketing said on a conference call Wednesday that the pickup truck market has been “really competitive.”

“There will be some level of trench warfare no matter what,” he said.

But the F-Series is setting a high bar, according to Kelly Blue Book analyst Michelle Krebs. “The F-Series has had some phenomenal months and they have very high prices on them,” she said.

Ford’s average transaction price for the F-Series in October was $47,300, up $4,000 from last year.

“October is always a good month for pickup sales, aided by low unemployment,” Krebs said. “That bodes well for truck sales for the rest of the year, and strong truck sales for the Detroit three are the profit-generators. That’s going straight to the bottom line.”

Sizzling demand for pickups is driving profits for all three automakers, according to quarterly results released last month.

The sales bump caused by consumers looking to replace vehicles washed out in hurricanes earlier in the year slowed slightly earlier than expected, according to Krebs.

“We thought that might run through October and maybe into November, but it looks like it started really winding down mid-month,” she said.

Year-to-date sales at all three Detroit automakers are down compared to the same period last year, with FCA down 8.4 percent, Ford down 1.9 percent and GM down 1 percent.

Among foreign makers, Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. both posted increases in October, up 1.1 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively, while Subaru deliveries inched up 0.5 percent.

Nissan posted an 8.4 percent increase in October. While Nissan’s Infiniti brand struggled in October, the automaker’s overall jump was driven by a strong month for the Nissan brand. The Rogue crossover saw a 43 percent increase in deliveries, while the Maxima saw a 72.5 percent bump.

Nissan continues to exceed expectations. Kelley Blue Book analyst Akshay Anand said the automaker’s strategy is “sales by any means necessary.” He says incentives are likely driving many of the automaker’s biggest gains.

“The strategy is paying off from a sheer numbers perspective,” he said in a statement. “If Nissan continues to go heavy in fleet incentives while competitors do the opposite, expect big numbers to continue.”

But Nissan spokesman Brian Brockman said the automaker is keeping incentives below the overall industry average.

“That said, the changeover from 2017 models to 2018 models is happening a bit later this year across the industry, and we’re seeing the effects of this a bit more than some of the other brands,” he said.