Toyota Motor Corp. led major automakers with the biggest gain in September deliveries in the U.S., where sales ran at the fastest rate in four years as buyers took advantage of cheap financing for cars and trucks.
Toyota sales surged 42 percent in September, topping the 36 percent gain that was the average estimate of eight analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Chrysler Group LLC and Honda Motor Co. also beat estimates, as the recovery of the U.S. auto industry continued to bolster the nation’s economy.
Automakers sold cars and light trucks at an annualized rate of 14.96 million, adjusted for seasonal factors, the best pace since February 2008, before the failure Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. fueled a global credit crunch. Banks now are charging auto buyers record-low interest rates and carmakers have offered zero-percent financing to attract customers who may not have been able to afford new cars otherwise.
“This notion of the buyer being resilient is certainly there,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president for researcher LMC Automotive. “You’ve got favorable conditions with credit available, interest rates that are extremely low. The conditions for the pocketbook are pretty favorable.”
Industrywide light-vehicle deliveries climbed 13 percent to 1.19 million in September, according to Autodata Corp. The U.S. sales rate exceeded the 14.5 million pace that was the average estimate of 16 analysts in Bloomberg’s survey.
Honda, rebounding along with Toyota from last year’s supply shortages caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, boosted sales in September by 31 percent, topping the 26 percent average estimate of eight analysts.
Chrysler sales last month rose 12 percent to 142,041 vehicles, the Auburn Hills, Michigan-based company said today in a statement. The automaker beat the 6.3 percent gain that was the average estimate of 11 analysts. Deliveries of the Dodge Dart sedan, introduced in June, climbed 72 percent from August to 5,235.
Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of Chrysler and its majority owner Fiat SpA, said last month that U.S. consumer confidence was robust regardless of election-year “bantering.” Marchionne’s views contrast with those of Jim Lentz, Toyota’s U.S. sales chief, who said in August that auto demand would slow until consumers had a “sense of stability in the future” after the November presidential election.
“In the midst of all this political kerfuffle, the underlying economics of the U.S. are quite strong,” Marchionne told reporters Sept. 14 in Detroit. “The U.S. is well poised to take a big piece of the action in terms of economic recovery on a global scale.”
General Motors Co. deliveries rose 1.5 percent, less than analysts’ average estimate for a 2.8 percent increase. Ford Motor Co.’s light-vehicle sales slipped 0.2 percent, missing the 2.3 percent gain that was the average estimate of 11 analysts. Nissan Motor Co.’s deliveries slid 1.1 percent, better than the average estimate of a 2.1 percent decline.
The recovery in the U.S. is countering sales declines in Europe’s auto market, which is headed for a 17-year low. Industry deliveries in Italy plunged 26 percent in September, Turin-based Fiat said today in a statement. GM shares rose today after hedge-fund manager David Einhorn said the stock was inexpensive and that the automaker’s European operations may break even in 2015.
“When you compare it to Europe, obviously it looks more positive,” Alan Baum, principal of auto-industry researcher Baum & Associates in West Bloomfield, Michigan, said of U.S. auto sales in a phone interview. “The auto industry has completed its comeback.”
Banks, bolstered by loose monetary policy, are charging U.S. consumers the lowest interest rates on new-car loans since the Federal Reserve began surveying them in 1971. Chrysler, GM, Ford, Toyota and Nissan also offered zero-percent financing on some models, according to researcher Edmunds.com.
Toyota offered buyers zero-percent financing in September on seven models including the Corolla compact car and RAV4 sport-utility vehicle. Corolla deliveries climbed 43 percent to 23,026 and RAV4 sales surged 80 percent to 13,796, the Toyota City, Japan-based automaker said in a statement.
GM offered no-interest loans on the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze, Cadillac SRX, Buick Enclave and several other models, according to Edmunds. The Detroit-based automaker boosted Cruze sales by 42 percent to 25,787. Deliveries of the Cruze and new Sonic and Spark small cars helped drive a 29 percent increase in the automaker’s passenger-car sales.
Ford offered no-interest loans on 2012 F-150 pickups as well as Mustang and Focus car models. Deliveries of Ford’s Focus compact car surged 91 percent to 19,736, and sales of F-Series pickups, the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker’s top-selling line of vehicles, rose 1.2 percent to 55,077.
Nissan, based in Yokohama, Japan, offered free financing on models including the Altima sedan and Pathfinder SUV. Altima deliveries increased 0.4 percent to 24,448 and Pathfinder sales rose 39 percent to 3,205.
Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp., both based in Seoul, combined to sell 23 percent more vehicles in September, better than the 9.1 percent gain that was the average of six analysts’ estimates. Hyundai’s deliveries gained 27 percent to 18,305 for the Elantra model line, according to a statement. Its affiliate Kia, which operates separately, more than doubled sales of the Optima sedan, the carmaker said in a statement.
Volkswagen AG, which is targeting more than 500,000 vehicle sales in the U.S. this year, increased combined deliveries of its Volkswagen and Audi brands by 32 percent, topping four analysts’ average estimate of 30 percent. Deliveries of the Passat sedan almost tripled to 9,500.
The industry selling pace was 14.5 million in August, the best since August 2009, when the U.S. government offered incentives for buyers to exchange older vehicles for new models, according to Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey-based Autodata.
Ford said it missed analysts’ estimates because it was short of inventory of the Fusion and the Escape SUV, which are each being replaced by redesigned models. Escape sales rose 14 percent to 23,148 vehicles last month, while Fusion fell 37 percent to 12,300 models.
“We are changing over to Escape and Fusion and we continue to ramp those vehicles up and get more inventory on dealer lots,” Erich Merkle, Ford’s sales analyst, said today on a conference call. The Fusion represents 13 percent of Ford’s vehicle sales, so any decline creates “quite a difference” in the company’s sales total, he said.
Ford fell 1.4 percent to $9.79 at the close in New York. The shares have slid 9 percent this year.
GM shares rose 2.6 percent to $23.68, extending the automaker’s gain to 17 percent this year through today’s close. Einhorn, speaking today at the Value Investing Congress in New York, said GM traded at a cheap valuation.
“We expect GM’s international operations to improve,” he said.
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