For the first time in 14 months, U.S. light-vehicle sales failed to top the year-ago month.
October sales fell 1.3 percent, to 1,357,319. The last time U.S. monthly sales declined was in August 1998, when General Motors was recovering from a strike. Car sales were down 3.3 percent in October; light-truck sales were up 0.9 percent.
Ten-month sales were 8.9 percent ahead of last year, on a pace to top the old record of 16 million in 1986 by nearly 1 million units. European brands are doing particularly well.
Jim Holden, president of DaimlerChrysler in North America, said last week that despite the October slowdown, he still expects sales of nearly 17 million cars and light trucks this year and about the same next year. Holden said he is discounting cautious sales forecasts for 2000.
'I have come to kind of ignore the economists' forecasts, because every year since 1995, they have said, `Down a bit from last year.' One of these years, they are going to be right,' Holden said.
'I'm not speaking as an academic; I'm speaking as a guy who listens to the drumbeat of the market,' he said. 'And based on our dealer orders, 4,500 dealers out there are telling me they believe they should stock up. Used-car prices are good. Residual values are good. Next year won't be 17 million, but it'll be close to 17 million, whereas trend (a prediction based on traditional expectations) would indicate 15 million to 15.4 million.'
UPS AND DOWNS
DaimlerChrysler's U.S. sales in October were down 6.3 percent from a record year-ago month. U.S. light-truck sales were down 5 percent for the month; car sales were off 9.1 percent.
Still, October 1999 was the second-best October ever for DaimlerChrysler brands.
Other October highlights:
General Motors sales were down 7.2 percent, despite record light-truck sales for the month. Year to date, GM was up 9.6 percent. 'Industry demand continues to be brisk,' said Roy Roberts, group vice president of North America vehicle sales, service and marketing. He said GM's fleet sales were down 24 percent, so GM's more profitable retail sales were better than the overall total indicates.
Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. gained 8.4 percent for the month. Nissan North America Inc. gained 15.2 percent.
American Honda Motor Co. slipped 0.6 percent for the month, although it was up 6.7 percent for the year. A company spokeswoman said Honda was short of V-6 engines for the Accord. And Honda's sales reporting computer system crashed on Oct. 31, so some sales were not reported. They will show up in the November report, the company said.
Ford Motor Co. is still on a pace for a record year, even though its sales fell 8.4 percent for the month. Robert Rewey, group vice president of marketing, sales and service, called it 'good news' that industry sales slowed in October from an 'unsustainable' seasonally adjusted annual selling rate of 18 million units, including medium and heavy trucks. Ford figured the October seasonally adjusted annual selling rate at 16.9 million. Rewey said Ford ran short of leftover 1999 models.
Holden complained that DaimlerChrysler was short of trucks like the Dodge Dakota and Durango. The company's share of the light-vehicle market was down 0.9 points, to 16.7 percent, in October. After 10 months, DaimlerChrysler's share was off 0.4 points, to 16.8 percent.
'If it's down a bit, well, I ran out of capacity,' Holden said.
MERCEDES TOPS LEXUS
Mercedes-Benz USA Inc. had its best-ever sales month. October deliveries of 17,768 were up 8 percent from last year. The previous monthly record was 16,663 in May 1999.
Sales of the Mercedes M-class sport-utilities were off earlier this year, but with better availability from the Alabama plant, M-class sales were back in the plus column for the month and for the year. Sales of the all-new 2000 S-class sedan were 67.2 percent ahead of last year.
Ken Enders, Mercedes marketing vice president, noted that Mercedes now leads the luxury class. It beat Lexus by 1,758 sales in October and was 94 ahead after 10 months.
Enders said he's not interested per se in being the volume leader. In a separate interview the same day, Lexus Division General Manager Bryan Bergsteinsson said the same thing - but without prompting, he just happened to know the 94-unit margin by heart.
Bergsteinsson predicted Lexus will have record sales this year, nearly 180,000. He said that with greater availability, Mercedes will be closer to 200,000, also a U.S. sales record.