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Auto sales in Sep 2013 remained mixed after a very strong August, with many large manufacturers recording their highest August sales since the recession. Auto sales in the U.S. declined 4% to 1.1 million units in September, mainly due to two less selling days in the month than the comparable year-ago period. Sales rose 3.4% to 15.3 million vehicles on a seasonally adjusted rate (SAAR) basis.

While Ford Motor Co. (F - Analyst Report) recorded the best September sales since 2006, Chrysler recorded a small improvement in sales. However, the monthly sales of General Motors Co. (GM - Analyst Report),Toyota Motor Corp. (TM - Analyst Report), Honda Motor Co. (HMC - Analyst Report) and Nissan Motor Co. (NSANY) witnessed a decline.

Let's look at the U.S. sales figures reported by individual automakers.

U.S. Automakers

General Motors’ sale of vehicles was 187,195 in September, falling 11% year over year due to lower demand for its Chevrolet and GMC brands. Retail sales fell 6% due to lesser selling days in Sep 2013. After adjusting for selling days, retail sales went up 2% year over year. Even fleet sales declined 27% due to a drop in Cruze sales, temporary suspension of sales of Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, and repositioning of Chevrolet Impala.

Ford outperformed the entire auto industry with a 6% increase in total sales to 185,146 vehicles. The company has generated year-over-year growth in sales in every month since Nov 2012.

The impressive performance was mainly driven by strong demand for its F-Series pickup truck, Fusion and Fiesta. Sales of the F-Series grew 9.8% to 60,456 units while sales of Fiesta escalated 28.5% to 5,043 units. Sales of Fusion surged 62.4% to 19,972 units. Fiesta and Lincoln MKZ recorded their highest September sales.

Chrysler Group – controlled by Italy’s Fiat SpA – recorded a 1% year-over-year rise in sales, bringing the figure to 143,017 vehicles, driven by strong demand for its Ram pickup truck. This is the best September sales for the company since 2007.

Chrysler has witnessed year-over-year increase in monthly sales for 42 consecutive months. Ram truck sales gained 8% during the month, while Dodge brand sales increased 3%. Even Chrysler brand sales improved 2% due to a 6% increase in sales of 300 large sedans and a 4% increase in sales of the Chrysler Town & Country minivan. However, Jeep brand sales declined 5% year over year.

Japanese Automakers

Toyota sales declined 4.3% on volume basis to 164,457 units, although it increased 4% year over year on the basis of daily selling rate (DSR). Lexus car sales declined 1.8% on DSR basis and 9.7% on volume basis to 10,858 units, due to significant declines in the sales of HS, LFA and CT.

However, Lexus truck sales went up 12.6% year over year on DSR basis and 3.6% on volume basis. Toyota Division car sales scaled up 5.5% on DSR basis but declined 2.9% on volume basis to 83,122 units. Meanwhile, Toyota Division truck sales grew 2% on DSR basis and sank 6.2% on volume basis.

Honda recorded a 2.1% year-over-year decrease in sales on DSR basis and 9.9% decline on volume basis to 105,563 vehicles due to lower sales in both Honda and Acura brands. Honda light truck sales surged 9.9% over Sep 2012, while sales of Accord sedan declined 6.2% on DSR basis and 13.7% on volume basis to 25,176 units. Meanwhile, Civic sales amounted to 22,983 units, up 15.9% year over year on DSR basis and 6.7% on volume basis.

Nissan Motor posted a 5.5% year-over-year decline in sales to 86,868 vehicles in September. Nissan Division sales also fell 4.3% to 77,828 units, due to significant decline in sales of models like Cube, GT-R, Maxima and Sentra. Even the sales of Infiniti Division decreased 4.3% to 9,040 units in the month. However, Nissan LEAF posted a 99% year-over-year increase in sales, while Versa, Pathfinder and Frontier sales also increased.

Outlook

The weak sales figures in September are expected to be a temporary phenomenon resulting from the inclusion of the Labor Day weekend, which usually witnesses strong sales, in August this year instead of September as usual.

Although the impact of the U.S. government shutdown is a concern, auto sales are expected to bounce back in the next quarter on the back of strong pent-up demand, easier car financing, low gas prices and improving macroeconomic conditions such as low interest rates, improving unemployment rates and recovery of the housing market. These catalysts are expected to drive the U.S. auto sales to the pre-recession level.

Moreover, as the automobile sector is a key industry for growth, improving auto sales will also help the overall economic recovery in the U.S. General Motors expects full-year sales to exceed its guidance range of 15.0–15.5 million units, while Ford expects annual sales in the range of 15.5–16 million units, compared with 14.5 million units in 2012.

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