Truck deals boost US auto sales in September

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

DETROIT (AP) — Big discounts on pickup trucks kept U.S. auto sales strong in September.

General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group led the industry with 19-percent sales increases over last September. Toyota sales rose 2 percent; Ford and Volkswagen were down.

U.S. sales rose 9 percent to 1.2 million cars and trucks, according to Autodata Corp. The sales pace slowed after a blistering August, which was the best month for the industry in eight years. But September's annualized pace of 16.4 million vehicles — down from 17.5 million in August — is closer to what analysts are predicting for the full year.

While August was fueled by Labor Day promotions and incentives on midsize cars, September saw good deals on pickup trucks. Chevrolet was advertising up to $8,500 off the price of a crew cab Silverado with a trade-in, while Chrysler's Ram was offering zero-percent interest.

The second half of the year is usually stronger for pickup sales, and stable gas prices, employment gains and higher consumer confidence have more people shopping for trucks, automakers said.

But GM and Chrysler were also hoping to take advantage of Ford, which has temporarily closed a truck factory to retool for its new aluminum-clad F-150. Ford cut back on discounts in order to keep more trucks in stock during the shutdown. As a result, GM said its light-duty Silverado outsold Ford's F-150 for the first month since 2011, and for only the second time in the last five years.

Pickup truck owners are the most loyal in the industry, but they also have come to expect big discounts, said Larry Dominique, president of the ALG auto forecasting firm. Full-size truck buyers may spend their entire annual income on a truck, Dominique said, so they're sensitive to price.

"If you have two or three good trucks in the marketplace and Ram has an extra $2,500, they can pull off the fringes from each other," he said. But automakers should beware: Those customers may not stay loyal when it's time to buy a new truck.

Ford's sales dropped 3 percent to 180,175 as F-Series pickup sales dropped 1 percent to 59,863. It was the first time in seven months that Ford's monthly truck sales have dropped below 60,000.

Ford Motor Co. saw a 9 percent increase in Fusion sedan sales, but otherwise its car sales were down. Sales of the Escape small SUV fell 4 percent; Ford blamed that on a sharp cutback on sales to rental car companies.

GM's sales totaled 223,437 cars and trucks. Three of its four brands saw double-digit gains; Cadillac sales were flat compared with last September.

Sales of the Chevrolet Silverado pickup rose 54 percent to 50,176. GM averaged just under $5,000 in incentives per pickup, which was 30 percent, or $1,140, higher than a year ago, according to estimates by J.D. Power and Associates. By comparison, Ford said its incentive spending dropped $160 per truck to $4,300.

GM's SUV sales were also strong. Sales of the recently revamped Cadillac Escalade more than doubled, while Chevrolet Traverse sales rose 45 percent.

Chrysler sold 169,890 cars and trucks, its best September since 2005. Ram truck sales rose 30 percent to 36,612 after Chrysler raised Ram incentives by 22 percent to $4,640.

Chrysler also benefited from buyers' increasing preference for small SUVs. Sales of the Jeep Cherokee, which was introduced late last year, surpassed the bigger Grand Cherokee for the first time. Jeep brand sales increased by 47 percent over last September.

Toyota sales rose 2 percent to 167,279, with a 43-percent gain for another small SUV, the RAV4, and big gains for the newly refreshed 4Runner SUV and the soon-to-be-discontinued FJ Cruiser. Honda sales rose 12 percent to 118,223 on the strength of the CR-V SUV and the Honda Fit subcompact, which jumped 66.5 percent

Other automakers reporting Wednesday:

— Nissan sales rose 18.5 percent to 102,955. Sales of the newly revamped Rogue crossover jumped 52 percent, while sales of the electric Leaf were up 47 percent.

— Hyundai sales rose 2 percent to 56,010 vehicles. Sonata sales were up 7.5 percent as a new version arrived in dealerships, while sales of the revamped Santa Fe SUV rose 35 percent.

— Subaru sales jumped 31 percent to 41,517 on the continuing strength of its SUVs as well as the new Legacy sedan, which saw sales double.

— Volkswagen sales fell 18.6 percent to 25,995, but the struggling German brand saw a glimmer of hope as its new Golf arrived in showrooms. Golf sales were up 93 percent.