September Auto Sales Surprise, Exceed Expectations

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Despite repeated calls from analysts that auto sales would continue to remain in the tank for the rest of 2011, September was anything but the bloodbath that had been promised. In fact, the month saw vehicle sales perform at a clip not seen since April.

American consumers bought 1.05 million cars and trucks in September, just one tenth of a percent shy of a 10 percent increase over last year’s sales, despite continued signs of economic weakness.

Sales were so good that many pundits and industry watchers are now revising their expectations for the year again. Auto sales are currently on pace to hit 13.1 million vehicles sold this year.

General Motors, Chrysler and Ford all posted gains, with only Ford failing to post a double digit rise. As they’ve done all year, Nissan has bucked the trend of Japanese automakers, posting a rise in sales greater than 25 percent. Hyundai sales are also continuing to rise.

While Detroit automakers, Nissan and Hyundai saw healthy increases in sales, Japanese stalwarts Toyota and Honda continued their fall. Honda sales declined 8 percent year over year. Interestingly, Honda sold more light trucks than cars, and even experienced a gain on trucks. Without the increase from trucks, sales of Honda cars were down 17.3 percent. Toyota and Honda have each posted five consecutive months of falling sales.

The biggest gainer was Volkswagen, and all German brands posted digit gains for the month. Volkswagen, currently the second largest automaker behind only General Motors, has set as its corporate goal to become the largest in the world, and is on pace for their first profitable year in the United States since 2003.

Bob Lutz, who recently returned to GM in a consulting role, says that “a while ago, many experts thought, the race for the top position in the auto business would be a dead heat between GM, Toyota, and Honda. This has changed. The Big Three are now GM, Volkswagen, and Hyundai. Toyota is in decline.”

Biggest Winners and Losers for September

  • Volkswagen: 35.6% Gain
  • Chrysler: 27.2% Gain
  • Nissan: 25.3% Gain
  • General Motors: 19.7% Gain
  • Hyundai: 11.8% Gain
  • Ford: 9.0% Gain
  • Toyota: 17.5% Loss
  • Honda: 8.0% Loss

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