Saturday, October 2, 2010

Auto sales top 2009 but flat since August

New models and Labor Day promotions didn't put a lot of fire into Americans' appetites for new cars in September, although easy comparisons with a dismal fall 2009 made year-over-year numbers look good.
U.S. auto sales in September did run at the fastest seasonally adjusted annual rate since the "cash for clunkers" incentive program last year. But results remained far short of pre-recession results when sales had touched 16 million units.

At Nissan North American — based in Franklin — sales fell 3.4 percent from August, as sales of its Infiniti and Nissan brand vehicles fell. Sales were up 34 percent when viewed against weak results from September 2009.

Sales at Chrysler Group LLC and Ford Motor Co. rose slightly from August. They fell at General Motors and Honda Motor Co. and were flat at Toyota.

Automakers say a recovery is still happening, but it isn't as strong as they had hoped after a terrible 2009. The pace of sales rose to 11.8 million cars and light trucks, up from 9.4 million a year ago, according to researcher Autodata Corp.

There were a few winners. Redesigned crossovers, which are SUVs on car frames, saw big jumps across the industry. Sales of the 2011 Ford Edge, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Toyota RAV4 doubled, while General Motors' GMC Terrain surged more than 200 percent.

With gas prices relatively low and credit loosening somewhat, buyers have been gravitating toward bigger vehicles.

Some new small cars also saw strong sales, including Ford's Fiesta subcompact, which gets up to 40 miles a gallon.

Automakers may have to rely even more heavily on more fuel-efficient cars in the future. The Obama administration proposed Friday to raise the fuel economy average to 62 miles per gallon by 2025.

Sales dropped 4 percent from August to 958,966, according to AutoData Corp. While it is typical for sales to decline after Labor Day, this August was one of the weakest ever.

Rise in sales is deceptive

Industry sales rose 29 percent from September 2009, but that was deceptive. The government's "Cash for Clunkers" rebate program, which ran during July and August 2009, drew buyers who otherwise would have waited until later in the year.

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