September Auto Sales Surprise on Both Upside and Down

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Automakers report September sales throughout the day Tuesday, and we will be following the reports and posting results as they come in.

Based on analysts’ estimates, the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate for 2013 for September stands at 15.8 million units. Last year’s sales total reached 14.5 million.

September sales do not include the Labor Day holiday weekend this year. The long weekend was counted in August sales, and as a result, analysts had forecast a drop in the seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales from August’s 16.1 million units to 15.5 million units.

First out of the blocks are Chrysler Group and Ford Motor Co. (NYSE:F). And their results are much better than expected. General Motors Co. (GM) posted a larger-than-expected decline, however, as fleet sales shriveled. Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) posted a percentage increase in adjusted sales, but on a raw-volume basis sales were down. Volkswagen and Nissan both posted significantly worse sales than had been expected as well.

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Chrysler’s year-over-year sales rose to 143,017 units, as the company’s Chrysler, Dodge and Ram truck brands all posted gains. Kelley Blue Book (KBB) had previously estimated September sales volume at 113,000, down 3.5% year-over-year. Chrysler forecast a seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales from all manufacturers at 15.7 million for 2013, down from 16.1 million forecast a month ago.

Ford’s sales rose 6%, to 185,146 Ford and Lincoln vehicles, compared with September 2012 sales of 174,976. KBB had forecast a drop of 0.8% in the company’s sales to 173,000 this year. Ford reported that sales of its Fusion model rose 62% year-over-year, and sales of the F-series pickup trucks rose 9.8%, compared with September 2012.

GM sales fell 11% in September from 210,245 a year ago, to 187,195 vehicles this year. That is far worse than the 1.1% decline forecast by KBB. The largest part of GM’s sales decline came in fleet sales, which were down 27% year-over-year. Fleet sales made up 20.4% of GM’s September sales.

Toyota’s sales for the month totaled 164,57 units, up 4% when adjusted to account for the two fewer selling days in September, but down 4.3% unadjusted, and that is the number that is comparable. KBB expected Toyota’s sales to increase by 3% in September, rising from 171,910 last year to 177,000. The company’s U.S. division vice-president said, “Industry fundamentals are strong as interest rates stay low and consumers remain confident.”

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Volkswagen sold just 31,920 units in the United States in September. That is a drop of 12.2%, and far below the KBB estimate of 45,000. The company said it has sold 314,833 units so far in 2013, down 2.6% compared with the same period a year ago.

Nissan’s September sales fell 5.5% to 86,868 units, sharply below the 93,000 estimated by KBB.

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