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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Automakers report mixed US sales results in September

In this Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, file photo, Volkswagen cars for sale are on display on the lot of a VW dealership in Boulder, Colo. (Brennan Linsley / Associated Press)
By Dee-Ann Durbin and Tom Krisher Associated Press

DETROIT – Automakers reported mixed U.S. sales results in September as demand for new cars and trucks sputtered.

Nissan’s sales rose 4.9 percent over last September and Toyota’s were up 1.5 percent. General Motors’ and Honda’s sales were flat, Fiat Chrysler’s fell 1 percent and Ford and Volkswagen both reported 8-percent declines.

Other automakers are releasing September sales figures later Monday.

Overall U.S. auto sales were expected to fall 1 percent to 1.4 million in September, the fourth month of declining sales this year, according to a joint forecast by J.D. Power and LMC Automotive.

That’s not necessarily bad news. Sales remain near historic highs, and some analysts suggest 2016 sales could even top the record of 17.5 million set last year. Favorable conditions such as low interest rates and low gas prices remain in place. Consumer confidence hit a nine-year high in September, according to the Conference Board’s index.

But after six straight years of growth, demand is clearly slowing. U.S. sales were up less than 1 percent through August, and a decline in September could push the year’s totals into negative territory.

New cars also are feeling pressure from used cars because of the growing popularity of leasing. More than 30 percent of new vehicles are now leased, up from 20 percent five years ago. Around 500,000 off-lease vehicles are returning to the used car market this year and next year, and many consumers will choose them instead of new vehicles, says Alec Gutierrez, a senior market analyst with Kelley Blue Book.

That has automakers pushing harder for sales. Incentive spending hit a record of $3,923 per vehicle last month, surpassing the previous high set in December 2008 during the recession.

BMW was offering $6,732 in incentives per vehicle in September, up 44 percent from a year ago, according to Fiat Chrysler spent $4,302 per vehicle on deals, up 23 percent. Buyers could get $4,500 cash back on a 2016 Ford Escape or $2,000 on a 2017 Chevrolet Malibu.

Mark LaNeve, Ford’s U.S. sales chief, said incentive spending was $430 per vehicle higher than last September. Usually, he said, incentives are only about $100 higher or lower than the year before.

“The business is as competitive as I’ve seen in my 32 years,” said Mark LaNeve, Ford’s U.S. sales chief, in a conference call Monday with analysts and media. “Everybody’s trying to protect their share and, in spots, grow it.”

Automakers said:

General Motors Co.’s sales fell less than 1 percent to 249,795. Buick sales jumped 14 percent thanks to strong sales of the new Envision small SUV and Cadillac sales were up 3 percent as the new XT5 SUV and CT6 sedan hit the market. But Chevrolet sales were flat and GMC sales fell 9 percent.

Ford Motor Co.’s sales fell 8 percent to 204,447. The company said a planned 36-percent cut in sales to low-profit rental car companies was partly to blame. Ford’s car sales plummeted 21 percent compared to last September, led by a 39.5 percent decline for the subcompact Fiesta. F-Series truck sales also fell 3 percent as Ford prepared to launch its new Super Duty trucks. Luxury Lincoln sales were up 1 percent.

Toyota Motor Co.’s sales rose 1.5 percent to 197,260. The company’s car sales were down 9 percent; sales of the hybrid Prius fell 23 percent, a victim of low gas prices. But SUV and truck sales were up 13 percent.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said its sales fell 1 percent to 192,883. Ram sales jumped 29 percent on strong sales of the Ram pickup and ProMaster van, but sales were down for the Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Fiat and Alfa brands.

Honda Motor Co.’s sales fell less than 1 percent to 133,655. Sales of Honda’s new small SUV, the HR-V, were up 49 percent over last year, when it was just hitting the market, but the company’s car sales fell 8 percent. Luxury Acura sales were down 13 percent.

Nissan Motor Co.’s sales rose 5 percent to 127,797. SUV and truck sales jumped 19 percent; sales of the Rogue small SUV rose 6 percent to more than 26,000, a September record. Luxury Infiniti sales were up 12 percent.

Volkswagen brand sales dropped 8 percent to 24,112. Volkswagen said Tiguan small SUV sales rose slightly but the rest of its vehicles were down as the company continues to struggle with a year-old diesel engine scandal.