Nissan’s nose dive driven by trucks and SUVs: Auto sales update

Chester Dawson and Gabrielle Coppola

U.S. auto sales probably took a big step back in September, setting the stage for hefty incentive spending by carmakers struggling to clear old models from dealers’ inventory.

Deliveries of cars and light trucks may have slumped in September by about 12%, the average of six analysts’ estimates. Nissan Motor Co.’s big drop is expected to lead declines among the major companies reporting Tuesday, as the Japanese carmaker continues to struggle in the post-Carlos Ghosn era.

Sales of Nissan brand pickups and sport utility vehicles – which tend to be more lucrative than passenger cars – dropped 21% in Sept. The 2019 Nissan Frontier pickup is shown.

The sales slowdown has the potential to put auto dealers already struggling with shrinking profit margins in an even more precarious position. With outgoing model-year vehicles clogging their lots, automakers had to pony up record incentive spending of more than $4,100 a vehicle in the third quarter, according to researchers at J.D. Power and LMC Automotive.

Detroit’s major auto manufacturers have stopped publicly reporting monthly numbers, though General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. have scheduled the release of quarterly figures Wednesday.

Here are highlights from the carmakers that have reported results for last month:

Nissan Not as Bad as Feared

Nissan’s deliveries decreased 18%, though analysts were expecting an even steeper decline of 21%.

Still, the models that drove the decrease give reason to be downbeat. Sales of Nissan brand pickups and sport utility vehicles – which tend to be more lucrative than passenger cars – dropped 21%, while deliveries for the Infiniti luxury division fell 44%.

Honda’s Turbulent Two Months

Honda Motor Co. had a rough September after logging its best U.S. sales month ever in August. Deliveries dropped 14% last month, a much worse showing than analysts expected.

Major models that stumbled in September include the Pilot SUV (-40%), Accord sedan (-20%) and CR-V crossover (-15%).

Toyota’s Lineup-Wide Tumble

Toyota Motor Corp. saw it sales plunge 16% in September, with both its namesake and Lexus luxury brands declining by double-digit percentages. Deliveries fell for almost every model, including its best-selling RAV4 sports utility vehicle and Camry sedan.

While all carmakers are going to struggle with September having been a shorter sales month – the Labor Day holiday weekend applied to August figures this year – Toyota can’t entirely blame the calendar. Even on a daily selling rate basis, total sales were down 9.2%.

Palisade Powers Hyundai

Hyundai Motor Co.’s namesake brand may have weathered the month better than others in the industry, with sales slipping 8.8%.

The South Korean company started U.S. deliveries of the Palisade, a three-row flagship SUV, in June. While it’s quickly become one of the carmaker’s better-selling models, Hyundai was unable to measure up against the numbers it posted a year ago. It still expects to have gained market share for the quarter, Randy Parker, Hyundai’s U.S. vice president of sales, said in a statement.

With assistance from Melinda Grenier.