Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of Toyota Motor Corp.'s lead in U.S. light-vehicle sales over General Motors in the third quarter.
The global microchip chip shortage that has left U.S. showrooms bare for months continues to hammer automakers, with Toyota, Ford, Honda, Hyundai and Kia reporting lower monthly sales again in September, signaling a rough stretch ahead as the year comes to a close.
The market fell 25 percent in September to just under 1 million units, LMC Automotive said Monday, and the lowest tally for the month since 2010, when the industry was still recovering from the Great Recession.
Volume dipped 13 percent in the third quarter and now has increased 13 percent for the year.
But in a sign of the market's latest challenges and lost momentum, the seasonally adjusted sales rate for September came in at 12.3 million units, Motor Intelligence said, just above forecasts, but still a staggering drop from the 18.5 million pace of just six months ago.
Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas, citing recession-like sales levels as a result of prolonged production cuts and high pricing, said inventory is hovering around a record low 22-days supply.
Ford Motor Co.'s Sept. deliveries dropped 18 percent, with the Ford division off 18 percent and Lincoln down 21 percent.
The company's top-sellers posted declines: F-series, off 18 percent; Ranger, down 45 percent; Escape, off 32 percent and Explorer, down 5.3 percent. While overall pickup truck deliveries fell 23 percent, the company's utility vehicle sales rose 3.4 percent, behind new models such as the Ford Bronco Sport, Bronco and Mustang Mach-E.
And the automaker, which edged Toyota Motor Corp. in sales last month, said inventory continues to improve, though slightly, with gross stock up 21,000 units to 236,000 at the start of October, compared to early September.
General Motors, delivering its first sales update since July, was among the hardest hit. Its third-quarter light-vehicle deliveries slumped 33 percent to 443,117 -- the company's lowest three-month tally since its 2009 bankruptcy. On Monday, LMC reported that GM's sales fell 54 percent last month.
“The quarter ended with some important changes in the sales rankings," said Augusto Amorim, a senior analyst at LMC Automotive. "September was such a weak month for GM that four other automakers had stronger volume performance, with Hyundai topping GM for the first time ever."
Steve Carlisle, head of GM North America, did offer some hope. He said the semiconductor supply disruptions that have impacted the automaker's wholesale and customer deliveries are easing as more of the company's key plants come back online.
"We look forward to a more stable operating environment through the fall,” Carlisle said in a statement. In the latest quarter, volume fell 36 percent at Chevrolet, 27 percent at GMC, 20 percent at Buick and 32 percent at Cadillac.
For the second straight quarter, the longtime market leader was upended by Toyota. In a historic shift, Toyota outsold GM by 122,888 units and now leads the year-to-date tally by a comfortable margin.
Still, Toyota has its own challenges. It’s been hampered by one of the industry's lowest inventory levels, with more production cuts planned in October. It reported a 22 percent decline in sales last month. Deliveries fell 25 percent at the Toyota division and 8.3 percent at Lexus.
Stellantis posted third-quarter sales of 412,917, down 19 percent, with deliveries dropping 11 percent at Jeep, 17 percent at Ram, 32 percent at Dodge and 51 percent at Chrysler.
Among luxury brands, Mercedes-Benz reported a 21 percent decline in third-quarter U.S. deliveries, and fell behind Tesla, Lexus and BMW during the period.
September sales skidded 25 percent at Honda Motor Co., behind a drop of 27 percent at Acura and 24 percent at Honda. The company cited tight microchip supplies and congestion at key ports for the results.
Volume dropped 1.8 percent at Hyundai and 4.7 percent at Kia last month, though both automakers racked up overall gains for the third quarter behind strong July deliveries.
Hyundai said retail sales slipped 5 percent to 49,439 last month as a result of what Randy Parker, head of sales, called a "challenging inventory environment."
And in the latest sign of how inventory remains constrained, Hyundai said its U.S. dealers closed last month with just 26,717 cars and light trucks in stock, down sharply from 130,835 at the end of September 2020.
Genesis posted a 332 percent increase in September volume, with sales of the GV70 and GV80 crossovers each outpacing combined deliveries of the brand's three sedans.
At Subaru, volume dropped 30 percent last month while Mitsubishi Motors' third-quarter volume dropped 4.3 percent.
Mazda reported a 0.8 percent decline last month. Volvo snapped a 15-month streak of year over year U.S. sales increases with a 9 percent decline in Sept. volume.
U.S. sales were projected to drop 25 percent last month, based on estimates from J.D. Power, LMC Automotive, TrueCar and Cox Automotive, capping a quarter that saw volume drop 13 percent.
Ony three automakers -- Toyota, Hyundai and Kia -- were forecast to post higher third-quarter results, according to estimates from TrueCar and Edmunds.
Tight microchip stockpiles, combined with other supply chain disruptions, are undermining the industry's recovery from the pandemic. Severe weather and flooding that struck the Gulf Coast and eastern seaboard also put a dent in volume last month, analysts said.
Some dealers have run out of new vehicles to sell multiple times over the last several months.
The average number of days a new vehicle sat on a dealer lot before being sold was on pace to fall to a record low of 23 days in September, down from 54 days a year ago and down two days from August 2021, J.D. Power said. Kia said it sold 77 percent of available inventory last month.
J.D. Power estimates retail inventories available at dealers dropped by another 22,000 units to 920,000 in September from 942,000 in August. Cox Automotive says there were 1.4 million fewer new vehicles in inventory last month compared to September 2020, and 2.5 million fewer vehicles than in September 2019.
The bottlenecks throughout the production pipeline that have depleted new car and light-truck supplies continue to upend the retail landscape.
Some buyers are balking at higher transaction prices and limited choices and deciding to wait on the sidelines until inventory improves. Nissan dealers order the redesigned Frontier pickup in one color and receive a shipment of two trucks in different colors. In Thomaston, Maine, the local Ford dealer, short on new-vehicle inventory, sold a used Chevrolet Corvette late last month out of the new-car showroom.