Auto sales struggle to gain ground
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Automakers continued to spin their wheels
during September, as sales struggled to match modest levels posted the
Sales were strong enough to result in huge increases compared to a year
earlier -- a terrible month for sales when both dealer inventories and
customer demand were severely depressed by the end of the Cash for
But hopes that the industry might be able to build on August momentum
appeared unlikely in the mixed early results from top automakers.
"We are seeing incremental improvement. However we're still far off from
a healthy demand level for sales," said Jesse Toprak, analyst with sales
GM, No. 1 automaker in terms of U.S. sales, reported an 11% increase
compared to the Clunkers hangover from a year ago.
But sales fell about 7% from August. The results were roughly in line
"GM's year-over-year increase in sales should be taken with a grain of
salt," said Ivan Drury, analyst with Edmunds.com. "However, GM does have
some nice momentum with its new products such as the highly anticipated
Chevrolet Cruze, which has just begun to arrive at dealerships."
When comparison is limited to the four brands GM still sells --
Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac -- sales rose 22% over last year. GM
discontinued or sold its Pontiac, Saturn, Saab and Hummer brands as part
of its bankruptcy process, but in September 2009 it was still disposing
of inventory from those brands. Sales at those discontinued brands
But the discontinued brands had little effect on sales comparisons to
August for GM, as the four continuing brands suffered a 6% decline. And
GM's sales increase lagged results of rivals Ford Motor (F, Fortune
500), Toyota Motor (TM) and Chrysler Group.
Ford sales shot up 41% compared to a year ago. That was better than
forecasts by sales trackers Edmunds.com and TrueCar. But it represented
only a 2% increase from the August sales levels. When excluding the
Volvo brand from the year-ago sales, Ford's sales increased 46%. Ford
has since sold the unit to Chinese automaker Geely.
Ford sales gains were broadbased, with most models posting double-digit
percentage sales increases. It was strong enough that sales were only 7%
below the GM sales volume, the closest Ford has come to leading the U.S.
market in recent memory.
Toyota posted a 17% increase in sales compared to a year earlier, but
down 1% from August. That was a bit better than Edmunds' forecast but a
bit stronger than the estimate from TrueCar.
Chrysler Group, which includes the Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands,
reported a 61% spike in sales compared to the prior year, but an
increase of less than 1% from its August sales. September 2009 was the
worst month in a terrible sales year for Chrysler. Forecasters from
sales trackers Edmunds.com and TrueCar had both projected about a 50%
jump in sales for the automaker.
Overall, industry sales were forecast to increase more than 25% compared
to a year ago, although that will leave sales more than 5% below August
Don Johnson, GM's vice president for U.S. sales, said sales ended up
pretty much hitting the company's internal targets for the month, and
that despite weakness in the middle of the month, sales were strong at
"This recovery has been somewhat uneven," he said. "Overall, [the
September sales number] lays the foundation for what we expect will be a
stronger industry in the fourth quarter."
George Pipas, director of sales analysis for Ford, also is projecting
continued improvement in fourth-quarter sales. He said the sales rate,
when adjusted for seasonal factors, has risen every quarter for the last
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