National Post (Latest Edition)

Nissan bucks buoyant trend as deliveries surpass expectatio­ns.

- Gabrielle Coppola David Welch and

Auto sales are recovering from the pandemic- induced slump earlier this year, with third- quarter deliveries beating expectatio­ns as consumers ditch shared rides for their own vehicles and seize on cheaper borrowing costs.

General Motors Co., Fiat Chrysler Automobile­s NV and Toyota Motor Corp. all reported better- than- expected results for the quarter. Nissan Motor Co. bucked the trend, extending a long- term slump and missing a consensus forecast.

Surging demand from retail customers offset a sharp drop in fleet sales to troubled rental- car companies. Total new light- duty vehicle sales probably ran at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 15.7 million in September, down 1.6 million from a year ago, according to researcher J.D. Power.

“While the economy has made a substantia­l rebound in the third quarter, retail auto sales have been even more resilient,” GM Chief Economist Elaine Buckberg said in a statement. “Super low auto- loan interest rates have boosted retail auto sales.”

Sales have rebounded after touching a multi- decade low of 8.7 million vehicles in April, when factories were idled and buyers across the country were quarantine­d at home. But deliveries are still lower than a year ago as recession- wary buyers trickle back into showrooms. Forecaster­s estimate sales are still down 20 per cent year to date, a gap car manufactur­ers are unlikely to close.

Most automakers stopped reporting monthly deliveries last year, so the third- quarter results are the first peek at sales trends since early July. Ford Motor Co. and Tesla Inc. aren’t expected to release their quarterly numbers until Friday.

Here are highlights from the automakers that are reporting results for last month:

Stuck in Reverse

Nissan had another forgettabl­e three months, with sales sliding a worsethan- expected 32.4 per cent to 221,150 vehicles. The Japanese automaker hasn’t had a positive quarter since 2017.

Beset by management turmoil at its headquarte­rs in Japan, an aging lineup and the downdraft in fleet sales, Nissan’s business in the U. S. continues to wither. The once stalwart Altima and Maxima sedans fell 45 per cent and 58 per cent respective­ly. Only five models didn’t post declines, including the Kicks subcompact crossover, NV200 compact cargo van and low- volume GT-R sports car.

GM’S Weakest Link

Retail buyers couldn’t get enough of GM’S SUVS and pickups, allowing the automaker to post a better- than- expected 9.9 per cent decline in quarterly sales to 665,192 vehicles. The company said it faces tight inventorie­s for trucks such as its Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra and is running all pickup plants on three shifts.

GM’S weakest division was Cadillac, which saw sales shrink 17.5 per cent in the quarter. The brand was hurt by a changeover to a new Escalade SUV. A plant in Arlington, Texas, is ramping up production to meet expected demand for the latest model.

Chrysler’s Minivan Might

Fiat Chrysler sales fell 10 per cent in the quarter — above analysts’ forecast for an 11.4 per cent drop — to 507,351 vehicles. The company cited robust retail demand, which compensate­d for lower fleet sales to commercial and rental customers.

Sales of the profitable Jeep brand fell 9 per cent, with deliveries of every model lower except the Gladiator pickup — due in part to inventory shortages.

“Jeep and Ram are hot and we continue to prioritize deliveries to our dealers, who are asking us to ship as many vehicles as we can build,” Jeff Kommor, Fiat Chrysler’s U. S. sales chief, said in a statement.

The only brand that ticked higher in the quarter was

Chrysler, thanks to strong sales of the Pacifica minivan. The people- mover’s deliveries soared 32 per cent in the quarter to 28,696 units. Counter to broader trends, sales to fleet customers almost tripled.

Toyota Hybrid Heft

Hybrids continue to provide a boost to Toyota, with September sales of its electric- gas vehicles up 35 per cent and accounting for almost one- fifth of the company’s total. For the quarter, deliveries fell 11 per cent to a better- than- expected 558,449 vehicles.

The Japanese automaker said overall sales in September rose 16 per cent to 197,124 vehicles and that its was the first month the Toyota brand exceeded a sales plan that predated the COVID-19 outbreak. Lexus sales surged 31 per cent to 24,754 cars and SUVS.

Hyundai Retail Strength

Retail sales rose every month in the third quarter for Hyundai Motor Co., even as total deliveries fell 1 per cent for the three- month period to 170,828 vehicles. Fleet sales plunged 67 per cent in September.

But that drop was largely offset by demand for popular SUVS like the South Korean automaker’s newish mid-size Palisade, which more than doubled to 7,741 units.

Honda Beats ( Barely)

The Japanese automaker notched its first positive month in September since the pandemic’s onset and managed to eke out a slightly better- than- forecast 9.5 per cent drop for the quarter. Honda got a lift from strong demand for its SUVS, including the CR-V compact and mid-sized Passport models, which helped power a 12 per cent gain last month to 127,058 vehicles.

The company said it sees no signs of a slowdown in buyers’ appetite for new vehicles despite limited supplies of some popular models such as a hatchback version of its Civic compact sedan.

“We’ve been building momentum throughout the third quarter,” Dave Gardner, executive vice president of national operations at Honda’s U. S. subsidiary, said in a statement. “So we’re optimistic for a strong close to 2020.”

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