US auto sales fall as ‘clunkers’ ends
Manufacturers offering incentives
DETROIT - US auto sales fell sharply in September, enduring a tough hangover from this summer’s “cash for clunkers’’ buying spree.
General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC posted the biggest slowdowns during the month, while Hyundai was the sole winner among big carmakers, reporting a 27 percent rise in sales from a year earlier.
“It was a more difficult month than we anticipated,’’ said Mark LaNeve, GM’s vice president of US sales.
The September slump for car and truck makers followed a heady summer. Automakers got a big lift in July and August from the clunkers program, which spurred sales of nearly 700,000 new vehicles. The government program’s big discounts appealed to many customers who otherwise would have waited to buy.
Now, automakers are starting to feel the effect. GM’s sales plunged 45 percent to 155,679 vehicles in September, compared with a year earlier. Chrysler sold 62,197 vehicles last month, down 42 percent.
Even higher incentives did not shake buyers from their fall slumber. Automakers spent an average of $2,557 per vehicle in the United States, up $83 from August, according to the auto website Edmunds.com. But that was due largely to big increases from domestic automakers.
“After five straight months of decline, incentives are on the rise again,’’ Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell said in a statement.
“Now that cash for clunkers is over, automakers have to give consumers an incentive to buy - out of their own pockets, not the taxpayers’.’’
European and Japanese manufacturers cut their spending on incentives, which include offerings like financing deals and rebates, designed to induce consumers to buy.
Ford Motor Co. had the smallest decline among the major manufacturers, falling 5.1 percent to 114,241, but the decline followed two consecutive months of rising sales.
Ford’s sales fell 37.2 percent from August. Two of Ford’s vehicles, Focus and Escape, were top sellers in the clunkers program. But now, with clunkers done, sales of the those vehicles have posted steep declines. The fuel-efficient Focus fell 64.1 percent between August and September; the Escape crossover model’s sales declined 58.5 percent.
GM blamed its decline on the clunkers program pulling buyers into July and August, weak consumer confidence, and low inventory levels during September before production increases could replenish stocks.
“As expected, the market returned to pre-cash for clunkers levels in September,’’ said GM’s LaNeve. “Fortunately, the fourth quarter looks brighter.’’
Ford’s top analyst told reporters yesterday that he does not think the cash for clunkers hangover will affect sales in October and beyond.
“The payback for the program will be minimal in the coming months,’’ George Pipas said. “I don’t think we should be using any excuses. I think from now on the economy stands on its own.’’
Cash for clunkers and summertime production cuts kept inventories of popular models low during the month, but even so, Chrysler predicted its market share will rise 0.8 percentage points from August levels. The company increased factory output to replenish supplies.
“While we had some bright spots in September, it was still a challenging sales environment for the industry,’’ Peter Fong, chief executive of the Chrysler brand, said in a statement.
October, however, is traditionally a slow month for sales.
In addition, shoppers are guarding their wallets, worried about holding onto their jobs.
Now the question is whether dealers can really get them back and help the industry recover for the remainder of the year.