Mixed bag for ve­hi­cle sales in Septem­ber

Year-over-year over­all sales de­cline for 4th straight month

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Dee-Ann Durbin and Tom Krisher AP Auto Writ­ers

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

Sales dropped 0.5 per­cent 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 per­cent over last Septem­ber. Hyundai and Subaru re­ported 4-per­cent sales gains, while Toy­ota’s sales rose 1.5 per­cent. Gen­eral Mo­tors’ and Honda’s sales were flat for the month. Fiat Chrysler’s sales fell 1 per­cent. Ford and Volk­swa­gen both re­ported 8-per­cent 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. Fa­vor­able 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 per­cent 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 per­cent last month.

New cars also are feel­ing

pres­sure from used cars be­cause of the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of leas­ing. More than 30 per­cent of new ve­hi­cles are now leased, up from 20 per­cent five years ago. Around 500,000 of­flease 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 per­cent from a year ago, ac­cord­ing to TrueCar.com. Fiat Chrysler spent $4,302 per ve­hi­cle on deals, up 23 per­cent. 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 per­cent to 249,795. Buick sales jumped 14 per­cent thanks to strong sales of the new En­vi­sion small SUV and Cadil­lac sales rose 3 per­cent as the new XT5 SUV and CT6 sedan hit the mar­ket. But Chevro­let sales were flat and GMC sales fell 9 per­cent.

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

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

• Fiat Chrysler Au­to­mo­biles said its sales fell 1 per­cent to 192,883. Ram sales jumped 29 per­cent on strong sales of the Ram pickup and Pro-Master van, but sales de­clined for the Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Fiat and Alfa brands.

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

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

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Volk­swa­gen cars are dis­played for sale on the lot of a VW deal­er­ship in Boul­der, Colo.

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