U.S. auto sales fell 4 percent in September, snapping a 27-month winning streak.
Automakers and industry analysts had widely expected a statistical payback after inclusion of the Labor Day weekend in the August tally fueled a 17 percent rally for that month. Among major automakers, only Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group recorded gains.
September even looked a bit soggy to some, with Hyundai executives and some analysts noting pockets of worried consumers.
Automakers sold 1.1 million light vehicles in September. The seasonally adjusted annualized selling rate of 15.3 million was the lowest SAAR since April's 15.2 million and was well below August's 16.1 million. But even with two fewer selling days, the monthly figure beat the previous September's 14.8 million rate.
And most automaker executives remain upbeat about the rest of the year.
"September was expected to be a bit of a challenging month [statistically] with Labor Day sales falling into August and two fewer selling days," said Bill Fay, general manager of Toyota Division. "We remain optimistic for the fourth quarter, with the industry rebounding into the plus column. We expect the government shutdown to be short and have minimal impact on our industry."
Combined, August and September sales totaled 2.6 million units, up 7 percent, compared with an 8 percent gain for the first nine months of the year.
"September is more about stability than growth," said Truecar.com analyst Jesse Toprak. "But we remain on track to sell 15.7 million units this year."
In September, car sales dropped 7 percent to 566,676 units while light-truck demand edged down 2 percent to 570,530.
Analyst Alec Gutierrez of Kelley Blue Book says widely available credit, pent-up demand and appealing new products will continue to drive auto sales the rest of the year. But he said KBB has stopped considering raising its full-year forecast above the current 15.6 million projection because September sales were lighter than anticipated.
"The first three weeks were some of the softest this year, but it picked up toward the end," he said.
In other developments:
Ford, Chrysler boost sales
- Among the major players, the only sales gainers were Ford Motor, up 6 percent; and Chrysler Group, up 1 percent. With a sales increase of just 975 units over September 2012, Chrysler extended its streak of year-over-year gains to 42 months.
Biggest losers: Hyundai, GM, Honda
- Sales dropped by double digits at three other automakers. Hyundai-Kia Automotive deliveries dropped 14 percent, enough to drag its year-to-date volume into negative territory, down 1 percent. General Motors was down 11 percent to finish with 187,195 sales, just 2,743 units ahead of Ford Motor. American Honda sales dropped 10 percent.
Smaller declines at Toyota, Nissan, VW
- Sales dropped 4 percent at Toyota Motor Sales, equally spread equally among the Toyota, Scion and Lexus brands. Nissan North America and Volkswagen Group of America both fell 6 percent.