DETROIT — Sales of sport utility vehicles took a dive in September, dragging down U.S. automakers who were already expecting a consumer payback after a summer of employee-pricing discounts. Asian brands, which didn’t offer employee discounts, felt less pain.
Several automakers reported strong car sales Monday, but SUVs took a hit industrywide in the U.S. market as gas prices skyrocketed following Hurricane Katrina. Sales of the GMC Envoy and Chevrolet Tahoe fell more than 50 percent compared to last September. The Cadillac Escalade, Mazda Tribute, Ford Explorer, Ford Expedition, Toyota Sequoia and Nissan Armada all saw their sales fall by 18 percent or more. Dodge Durango sales were down 11 percent.
General Motors Corp. sales were down 24 percent overall. Its SUV and truck sales fell 30 percent while its car sales dropped 14 percent. GM’s overall sales were flat for the first nine months of the year.
GM said it knew September would be a challenge after a summer of heavily promoted discounting. GM began letting consumers pay the employee price in June and ended the promotion Friday.
“We’re coming off the three strongest months in the history of the industry,” said Paul Ballew, GM’s executive director of market and industry analysis.
Ford Motor Co. also took a hit, with sales down nearly 20 percent in September. Ford, Lincoln and Mercury car sales rose 6 percent, but sales of trucks and SUVs fell nearly 28 percent. The company’s overall sales were also flat for the first nine months of the year.
Ford attributed the declines to the strong summer. Ford began allowing customers to pay the employee price in July, and the incentive helped deplete the automaker’s 2005 inventory. George Pipas, Ford’s U.S. sales analysis manager, said the company expects SUV sales will stay soft in the near term.
Ballew cautioned that gas prices aren’t the only reason for falling SUV sales. He said an aging lineup of SUVs and more options in car-based crossovers also are affecting the segment.
Strong pickup sales were further proof that gas prices aren’t the only factor in the SUV’s decline. The Dodge Ram pickup had its best month ever and its sales were up 5 percent, DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group said. Toyota said sales of its Tacoma pickup rose more than 21 percent.
Chrysler bucked the trend among U.S. automakers, reporting a 4 percent increase in September sales, led by a 26 percent jump in car sales. The Dodge Neon, which Chrysler stopped making two weeks ago, saw a 69 percent increase. Chrysler’s truck and SUV sales were down 1.8 percent, but its overall sales were up 7.5 percent for the year.
Asian automakers also saw weak SUV sales, but none of the payback that U.S. automakers had to contend with. Toyota Motor Corp.’s sales were up 10 percent in September, thanks to a 22 percent increase in car sales. Toyota’s truck sales fell 4 percent.
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