Sept. sales pull out of sharp dive

A wild ride
GM's U.S. retail sales (not counting fleet sales); % change, Sept. 2001 vs. Sept. 2000
Sept. 1-10 6%
Sept. 11-20 24%
Sept. 20-30 20%
Total month 1.3% to 314,295
Source: General Motors

September sales were a roller coaster - a decent start, followed by a dive after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and an incentive-driven recovery late in the month.

The result was that U.S. light-vehicle sales fell 12.5 percent overall from a strong year-ago month, to just under 1.3 million.

That was worse than the drop in 2001 sales year to date - down 5.7 percent to 12.8 million after nine months - but better than the outlook was at mid-month. According to J.D. Power and Associates, sales bottomed out Sept. 14, when they were off 42 percent compared with pre-attack levels.

Zero interest loans and the showroom traffic they generated turned that around. Not counting fleet sales, General Motors' retail sales in the last 10 days of September picked up 20 percent compared with the year-ago period, said Paul Ballew, GM's general director of global market and industry analysis.

"It was a very strange month, as one would expect," he said.

The end of September also marked the end of the traditional model year for 2001 models. For the model year, sales fell 5.7 percent to 16.6 million, matching the falloff for the 2001 calendar year to date.

Some September highlights:

  • GM sales were 6.7 percent behind the year-ago month, but since the rest of the market fell more, GM picked up 1.9 percentage points of market share, to 29.9 percent of the light-vehicle total for the month. Year to date, thanks to steadily improving light-truck sales, GM's market share slipped just 0.3 percentage points to 28 percent. Last year, at 28.3 percent share, GM had its lowest share since 1926.

  • Ford Motor Co. sales dropped 13.2 percent. The Ford F-series pickup, which was down 4.7 percent year to date, gained 5.3 percent for the month. The F series got a big boost from 0 interest loans since F-series buyers don't usually see such generous incentives, said George Pipas, Ford Motor Co.'s sales analysis and reporting manager. But Lincoln sales plunged 43 percent in September.

  • DaimlerChrysler sales sank 29.2 percent from a record year-ago month, including a 33.9 percent fall in light-truck sales. The Chrysler group was the last of the Big 3 to offer 0 interest loans, on Sept. 25, but the new incentives provided a lift, said Gary Dilts, senior vice president of sales for the Chrysler group. "Whatever trend we were on really reversed in the last seven days," he said.

  • Japanese brands stayed out of the 0 interest game, which probably blunted their market share gains year to date. Sales fell 8.0 percent for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., including the first year-over-year decline for Toyota Division since February. Lexus sales also fell in September; nevertheless, Toyota Motor picked up a thin slice of share for the month.

    Some of the late September sales momentum probably will carry into October.

    Zero interest and low interest loans offered by the Big 3 are scheduled to continue through October.

    Beyond that, the usual indicators point in contrary directions. Analysts said that interest rate cuts, incentives and stable gasoline prices could contribute to a recovery. But falling consumer confidence, corporate layoffs and the likelihood of a recession contradict that.

  • You can reach Jim Henry at autonews@crain.com

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