SOUTHFIELD, MIch. - Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group overcame a quirk in the industry sales calendar to post surprise U.S. gains for September while others, including General Motors Co. and Toyota Motor Corp., slumped more than predicted.
Analysts had projected a 2.8 percent drop in sales for Fiat-controlled Chrysler, which would’ve been the company’s first drop in 42 months. Instead, Chrysler deliveries climbed 0.7 percent to 143,017. Ford said sales of its cars and light trucks rose 5.7 percent to 184,452. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News had estimated little change.
In total, industry sales slipped 4.2 percent in September, the first drop in 27 months, according to Autodata Corp. Deliveries for the first two days of September, including the Labor Day holiday, didn’t contribute toward automakers’ tallies because they were counted in August figures. That should temper concern over bigger-than-estimated declines by carmakers including GM.
"I don’t think there’s anything in this month that looks to me like an inflection point for anybody," Kevin Tynan, auto analyst for Bloomberg Industries, said Tuesday in an interview. "It’s explainable. I don’t think anybody is thinking about tapping on the brakes at this point."
Deliveries of cars and light trucks last month slid to 1.14 million, in line with the average of 10 estimates in the Bloomberg survey. The annualized industry sales rate, adjusted for seasonal trends, climbed to 15.3 million, according to Autodata, missing the 15.4 million average of 16 estimates.
While the pace is slower than August’s 16.1 million, it was up from 14.8 million a year earlier, and carmakers this year are still on track for the most U.S. deliveries since 2007.
Now the industry is watching warily the U.S. government shutdown, concerned that it could affect consumer confidence - and this month’s sales.
"Any type of disruption in government operations would adversely affect government spending, business and consumer confidence, and financial markets," Jenny Lin, an economist for Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford, said on a conference call. "We urge our government leaders to continue to work together and we remain hopeful that the shutdown won’t be very long."
GM sales tumbled 11 percent, Toyota’s dropped 4.3 percent, Nissan’s slid 5.5 percent and Honda’s fell 9.9 percent. All four declined more than analysts had estimated.
"We try to take a bigger view of the quarter and the year," Kurt McNeil, General Motor’s vice president of U.S. sales, said in a conference call with analysts and reporters. "We are still very bullish."
GM deliveries to fleet buyers plunged 27 percent as cars such as the Chevrolet Impala and Cruze break away from GM’s past reliance on demand from rental-car companies. Deliveries to retail customers declined 6 percent, a smaller decline than its total sales.
"It’s fair to say that Detroit is building cars that people actually want to buy, which wasn’t always the case," said Warren Gibbon, a Boston-based vice president for Standard Life Investments, which has $271 billion under management and holds GM shares.
Cruze sales to fleet customers plunged 82 percent and GM still lacks inventory of its new Silverado pickup. That all contributed a 15 percent drop for GM’s mass-market Chevrolet line. Cadillac luxury brand deliveries rose 9.9 percent.
Chrysler, which filed for an initial public offering last month, extended its run of monthly sales gains to 3 years. The Auburn Hills, Mich.-based company’s deliveries of Dodge Dart compact surged 51 percent to 7,922. Demand for the Ram pickup climbed 8.4 percent to 28,145 while the Jeep Grand Cherokee sport-utility vehicle increased 19 percent to 14,906.
"Chrysler’s had this incredible streak of sustained year- over-year growth, getting through several months like this," Alec Gutierrez, an analyst for auto-pricing website Kelley Blue Book, said in a telephone interview.
Sales of Ford’s Fusion family car surged 62 percent to 19,972 and deliveries of F-Series pickups rose 9.8 percent to 60,456, the carmaker said in a statement.
If the government shutdown lasts three or four weeks, economists estimate it could reduce gross domestic product by as much as 1.4 percentage points and drag on confidence. Deliveries of new cars and light trucks may rise to 16.1 million next year, the average estimate of 13 analysts in a survey by Bloomberg last month.
"As long as the underlying economic factors are supporting the business, which we believe they will through the end of this year and into ’14, we’ll get through this turbulence," said Ken Czubay, Ford’s vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, who is retiring on Nov. 1.
GM sales were predicted to decline 4.2 percent, the average of nine estimates. The Detroit-based automaker was raised to investment grade for the first time in eight years by Moody’s Investors Service on Sept. 23. The company purchased 120 million preferred shares held by the United Auto Workers retiree medical trust for about $3.2 billion. The U.S. Treasury also began selling down the rest of its 101.3 million shares.
The average estimate of seven analysts was for September declines of 2.5 percent by Toyota City, Japan-based Toyota, 0.6 percent by Tokyo-based Honda and 4.8 percent by Yokohama, Japan- based Nissan.
Hyundai Motor Co. and affiliate Kia Motors Corp.’s combined deliveries dropped 14 percent, matching the average of seven estimates. Volkswagen’s combined September sales for its VW and Audi brands slipped 7.5 percent, better than the 12 percent decline that was the average of four estimates.