Retail customers simply steered clear of Big 3 showrooms in October. "The traffic is off all the way around," says Glenn Hartzheim, owner of Hartzheim Dodge in San Jose, Calif.
Fleet sales include vehicles sold to businesses, government agencies and daily car rental companies. Automakers often lose money on sales to daily rental fleets, but other fleet sales can be profitable.
For each of the Big 3, fleet sales accounted for an unusually big chunk of total sales.
GM's fleet sales generated 33.5 percent of its total October volume, up from 25.8 percent for the period a year earlier. Ford Motor's fleets also accounted for 33 percent of October sales, up from 24 percent a year earlier.
The Associated Press reports that Chrysler's fleets shot up to 40 percent of its October sales. Chrysler doesn't report precise figures for monthly fleet unit sales. Dilts acknowledged that commercial sales -- excluding sales to daily rental fleets -- rose 119 percent in October. He did not indicate whether Chrysler increased sales to rental fleets.
Chrysler also notes that fleet sales for the third quarter totaled 17.2 percent of its U.S. sales, up from 13.8 percent in the third quarter of 2004.
For the industry as a whole, fleet sales represented more than 25 percent of the light-vehicle market in October, says Bob Schnorbus, chief economist for J.D. Power and Associates. In the first nine months of the year, fleets accounted for about 22 percent of industry sales, he says.
The Big 3 sell an estimated three out of every four fleet vehicles, Schnorbus says.
Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.'s monthly fleet percentage typically remains in the single digits, the company says.
"Our fleet runs between 6 and 7 percent," says Xavier Dominicis, company spokesman. "October was typical."
The Big 3 traditionally have sold a higher percentage of vehicles to the fleets than the imports. And Chrysler's Dilts defends the practice, noting that commercial fleet sales are "good business."
Chrysler did well selling minivans, Jeep Grand Cherokees, Dodge Chargers and Chrysler 300s to commercial fleets last month, he says.