Toyota and Hyundai-Kia used a flurry of fleet sales to make up for weaker retail volume in August and September. But for the Detroit 3, fleet fizzled and retail roared.
Because Labor Day weekend sales were lumped in with August totals instead of September, year-over-year comparisons are skewed. Comparing August and September 2013 totals against the same two months in 2012 reduces volatility.
Using that measure, overall sales this year for seven major automakers in August and September rose 7 percent, with fleet volume down 5 percent to 323,000 and retail up 8 percent to 1.9 million.
At Hyundai-Kia America, retail volume dropped 6 percent. But a 15 percent gain in fleet sales trimmed the net two-month decline to 4 percent. Toyota Motor Sales' retail sales rose 8 percent in the period, but a 46 percent jump in fleet units gave Toyota an overall gain of 10 percent.
By contrast, each of the Detroit 3 reduced fleet volume and increased retail volume substantially in August-September. General Motors' retail sales climbed 9 percent to 370,100 units, while fleet dropped 17 percent to 93,000. Chrysler Group boosted retail 13 percent to 241,600, but fleet dropped 12 percent. At Ford Motor, fleet fell 1 percent to 96,400, but retail rose 13 percent.
Both retail and fleet rose for Nissan North America. For the two months, fleet volume rose 4 percent and retail was 9 percent higher, giving the automaker an overall 9 percent increase.
American Honda has no central fleet office and lets dealers handle fleet business. Automotive News estimates its fleet at a flat 2 percent of overall sales.
Most major automakers' fleet strategies were unchanged in September. Toyota's fleet mix was 10 percent for September and the first nine months, for example.
And so far this year, each of the Detroit 3 has reduced its reliance on fleet, especially GM and Chrysler. Through nine months, GM's fleet mix is 24 percent, down from 27 percent a year earlier, while Chrysler has cut fleet to 23 percent from 27 percent.
Even Ford, with its emphasis on commercial fleet customers, has trimmed a point off its fleet mix, to 30 percent in the first three quarters.
In contrast to the Detroit 3, Hyundai-Kia has increased fleet sales 52 percent through nine months to 138,600 units. That partially offset a 7 percent fall to 826,000 units in retail sales.