U.S. light-vehicle sales rose 6.3 percent in September -- the first gain of the year -- on strong truck demand and fatter deals.
Some analysts expected industry volumes last month to benefit from replacement demand for hundreds of thousands of vehicles damaged by hurricanes in Texas and Florida. But the robust results -- underscored by a seasonally adjusted annualized sales rate of 18.58 million for the month -- blew well past the most optimistic forecasts.
It is the highest SAAR since the 20.64 million rate recorded in July 2005 behind employee-style discounts.
“The auto industry showed renewed strength in September, bringing optimism for a third consecutive year with sales topping 17 million new vehicles,” said Jack Hollis, group vice president and general manager of the Toyota division.
It was a particularly strong month for light trucks, with sales advancing 12 percent, while car demand remained weak and down 3.3 percent.
“The overall strength of the U.S. economy is the main force driving the market,” GM Chief Economist Mustafa Mohatarem said in a statement. “With the U.S. economy strengthening, retail sales should remain strong for the foreseeable future.”
Sharp gains at Ford, Nissan, Honda, Toyota and General Motors drove most of the industry's deliveries last month.
GM’s 12 percent jump marked a second straight strong month after a tepid start to 2017. Toyota Motor Corp. scored a 15 percent increase, its strongest in two years. Ford Motor Co., up 8.9 percent, snapped a three-month losing streak. Nissan Motor Co. up 9.5 percent, bounced back from a double-digit decline in August. American Honda tallied its biggest gain in 17 months.
FCA US, meanwhile, dropped 10 percent as the company searches for its first advance in more than a year.
Automaker by automaker
GM said sales rose 17 percent at Chevrolet, 9.4 percent at GMC and 1.1 percent at Cadillac, with volume down 20 percent at Buick. GM's crossover deliveries jumped 43 percent, while truck volume rose 10 percent and passenger car demand fell 11 percent.
Sales rose 9.3 percent at the Ford division and 0.1 percent at Lincoln.
Ford said truck sales rose 20 percent, with F-series deliveries topping 80,000 units last month -- marking only the third September on record that milestone has been achieved. Car demand slipped 1.3 percent and utility volume rose 1.8 percent, Ford said.
Toyota Motor Corp. sales rose 15 percent, with deliveries rising 17 percent at the Toyota brand and 1.5 percent at Lexus. The Toyota division's SUV sales rose 43 percent and pickup volume jumped 16 percent
Deliveries were up 9.3 percent at the Nissan division, behind another strong month for truck sales, and 12 percent at Infiniti.
Every FCA US brand aside from Alfa Romeo posted a decline. Jeep sales, down 3.8 percent in September, have now fallen 13 straight months, just as FCA itself.
The Honda division, up 7.4 percent, drove a 6.8 percent increase at American Honda, with Acura advancing 1 percent.
Sales rose 6.6 percent at Kia, ending the brand's 8-month skid, 3.4 percent at Mazda and 17 percent at Mitsubishi. Subaru managed to keep its streak going with a 0.4 percent gain.
The Volkswagen brand continued to recover from its diesel-emissions crisis by recording a 33 percent surge. Audi, meanwhile, shot up 9.6 percent.
After the hurricanes
U.S. sales have now fallen 1.7 percent this year through September after seven straight annual gains and a record 2016.
The seasonally adjusted annualized pace of sales was expected to come in at 17.4 million, down from 17.72 million in September 2016, according to 12 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. There were 26 selling days last month compared to 25 in September 2016.