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Automakers report mixed US sales results in September

FILE - 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. On Monday, Oct. 3, 2016, automakers release vehicle sales for September. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)
October 03, 2016 - 1:22 PM

DETROIT - U.S. auto sales fell slightly in September as demand for new cars and trucks sputtered.

Sales dropped 0.5 per cent to 1.4 million in September, according to Autodata Corp. It was the fourth month of year-over-year sales declines so far this year.

Automakers reported mixed results Monday. Nissan's sales rose 4.9 per cent over last September. Hyundai and Subaru reported 4-per cent sales gains, while Toyota's sales rose 1.5 per cent. General Motors' and Honda's sales were flat for the month. Fiat Chrysler's sales fell 1 per cent. Ford and Volkswagen both reported 8-per cent declines.

Slowing sales aren't necessarily bad news for automakers or consumers. Sales remain near historic highs, and some analysts suggest 2016 sales could still top the record of 17.5 million set last year. Favourable 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 are up just 0.5 per cent through September.

Cars have been particularly hard hit as low gas prices have made SUVs and trucks even more appealing. Brands without competitive new SUVs are struggling; Fiat, for example, saw its sales plummet 30 per cent last month.

New cars also are feeling pressure from used cars because of the growing popularity of leasing. More than 30 per cent of new vehicles are now leased, up from 20 per cent 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 per cent from a year ago, according to TrueCar.com. Fiat Chrysler spent $4,302 per vehicle on deals, up 23 per cent. 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," LaNeve said during a conference call with analysts and media. "Everybody's trying to protect their share and, in spots, grow it."

Among the sales tallies from automakers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Hyundai Motor Co.'s sales rose 4 per cent to 66,610. Hyundai's biggest seller, the Sonata midsize sedan, saw sales slip 6 per cent, but sales of the Santa Fe SUV were up 5.5 per cent.

— Subaru brand sales rose 4 per cent to 54,918, led by a 12 per cent gain for the Subaru Outback small SUV.

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

News from © The Associated Press, 2016
The Associated Press

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