Volkswagen Group of America could be the only major automaker to report a decline in U.S. sales in what could be the strongest September in 15 years, according to forecasts.
TrueCar projects sales by VW brands will drop a combined 5.2 percent in September while overall industry sales will rise 13 percent from September 2014. Edmunds.com estimates VW and Audi sales will fall 2 percent amid a 14 percent jump for the industry.
But not everyone sees VW taking such a big hit. Kelley Blue Book predicts a 7.8 percent increase this month for the company, with industry sales up 12 percent.
VW dealers are barred from selling any diesel-powered vehicles, which represent more than 20 percent of the company’s U.S. sales. And the barrage of negative headlines about VW’s deception is deterring shoppers from checking out the rest of the lineup, dealers say.
“We still have people shopping the used cars, but for new cars, it’s been very soft,” said Jack Bertolet Jr., president of J. Bertolet Volkswagen in Orwigsburg, Pa. “It’s been very frustrating for us because we’ve never had anything like this before. My family lives and dies by these cars.”
Bertolet said diesels account for 35 percent of his sales in a typical month. The stop-sale comes with diesel prices at their lowest level since mid-2009.
Aside from VW, September is on pace to be one of the strongest months in the last decade, according to the TrueCar and Edmunds forecasts.
Edmunds said the month’s seasonally adjusted, annualized selling rate could match the 17.8 million rate recorded in August. That would be the highest September SAAR since 2000.
TrueCar said it expects a SAAR of 17.7 million. The rate was 16.5 million in September 2014.
“Volkswagen’s deception is dominating headlines, but it is not keeping shoppers away from other brands’ showrooms,” Edmunds senior analyst Jessica Caldwell said in a statement. “It puts the crisis in a little bit of perspective, since these Volkswagen diesels don’t constitute a very big share of sales. It’s also a reminder that buyers won’t disappear from the market just because they suddenly can’t or don’t want to buy these affected cars.”
LMC Automotive, citing stronger retail demand, sees sales rising 13 percent to 1.4 million vehicles for the month.
A big reason for the expected strong results is the late timing of Labor Day. The long weekend, one of the industry’s biggest holiday periods of the year, counted toward August sales in each of the past three years but is part of September this year.
If the Edmunds forecast is accurate, it would be the industry’s largest year-over-year percentage gain since August 2013.
“Labor Day and model year-end promotions combined to create an impressive outcome this month,” Eric Lyman, TrueCar’s vice president of industry insights, said in a statement. “September’s sales pace underscores the strength of the auto sector’s continued expansion and our confidence that full-year sales will reach 17.2 million units in 2015.”
The forecasts show the Volkswagen Group losing at least half a point of market share, enough to fall behind Kia.
Kia, Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Sales and Subaru are among the automakers expected to post the biggest sales gains for the month.
Incentive spending is projected to average $3,090 per vehicle, TrueCar said, up 3.9 percent from a year ago and down 0.1 percent from August.
U.S. light-vehicle sales, driven by strong demand for pickups, SUVs and crossovers, have climbed 3.8 percent this year through August. LMC Automotive, citing strong volume in the spring and summer, raised its light-vehicle sales forecast for 2015 to 17.2 million vehicles from 17.1 million.
Compact and small SUV/crossover demand is behind much of the gains in light trucks. So far in September, LMC said both segments are at their highest share of industry retail sales ever -- 15.8 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively -- with both segments combined representing one in every five vehicles sold in the U.S.