Auto sales fell in September, hurt by early Labor Day

New York TimesOctober 1, 2013 


Joe Hinrichs, president of the Americas for Ford Motor Co., looks at a vehicle on the production line during an event at the Ford Motor Co. Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Flat Rock, Mich.


— Sales of new vehicles in the United States slowed in September compared with last year, mainly because the Labor Day selling weekend fell in August.

Sales for General Motors fell for the first time since July 2012, sliding 11 percent in September, to 187,195 vehicles. Sales of its Chevrolet brand tumbled 14.7 percent, while GMC brand sales dropped 9.7 percent. GM, the nation’s largest automaker, was helped by a 9.9 percent gain for Cadillac and 6.5 percent for Buick.

“September had only 23 selling days,” said Kurt McNeil, GM’s vice president for United States sales operations. “All of this goes a long way in explaining the month-to-month decline” in the annual rate of industrywide sales.

While sales fell for most automakers, Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler Group bucked the industry trend.

Ford said its sales rose 5.8 percent for its best September performance since 2006. It sold 185,146 vehicles, or 2,049 fewer than General Motors, to narrow a gap that hasn’t been closed since March 2011. Sales of the Ford brand rose 6.3 percent, while its Lincoln brand fell 5.1 percent for the month compared with last year.

The Chrysler Group reported sales rose 0.7 percent, extending a streak of consecutive year-over-year sales gains to 42 months.

Chrysler’s Ram trucks division rose 8.2 percent, compared with 1.6 percent for the Chrysler brand and 2.6 percent for Dodge. Jeep sales fell 4.5 percent. Fiat sales were down 24.4 percent, falling for the first time in 18 months.

The double-digit gains automakers reported over the summer moderated in September because two of the industry’s busiest sales days – the Saturday and Sunday before Labor Day – took place in August, contributing to that month’s robust figures.

“September’s performance can be attributed to the timing and strength of the Labor Day weekend,” Erich Merkle, Ford’s United States sales analyst, said in a conference call on Tuesday.

“You’re going to see a lot of strange stuff in the year-over-year comps,” Merkle added.

Ford estimated that industrywide sales fell 5 percent in September but said the third quarter, taken as a whole, would show a more accurate picture.

“The transaction prices are continuing to reflect significant improvement in fuel economy” as well as styling and technology, said Ken Czubay, Ford’s vice president for United States marketing sales and service. Combined with pent-up demand and aging cars, “it’s a favorable tide rising.”

Toyota said its sales fell 4.3 percent in September. Nissan Motor Co.’s sales dropped 5.5 percent, with its Nissan brand falling 5.6 percent and its Infiniti brand dropping 4.3 percent.

Volkswagen fell 7.5 percent, with sales of its VW brand falling 12.2 percent. Analysts said VW continued to struggle because of an aging portfolio and increased competition among small cars, despite the automaker’s doubling of its incentive spending over September 2012.

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