The U.S. new-vehicle market closed the third quarter on a mixed note for automakers with the outlook for the final three months of the year looking increasingly cloudy as growing economic challenges and rising interest rates threaten what is supposed to be a more robust second-half rebound.
Motor Intelligence said the market rose 10.5 percent to 1.126 million last month, but remains down 13 percent at 10.281 million through September. It was one of the weakest Septembers in recent history, LMC Automotive said, with only Sept. 2021 and Sept. 2011 generating lower volume.
Hurricane Ian, which suppressed sales in the Southeast U.S., was also a factor in what LMC described as a "relatively sedate close to the month."
And September became the fifth straight month in which U.S. retail sales tallied under 1 million, LMC said.
The seasonally adjusted sales pace came in at 13.7 million last month, Motor Intelligence said. That is slightly above the range of estimates from analysts -- 13.3 million to 13.6 million -- and up sharply from 12.38 million in September 2021, the lowest pace of sales since the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Third-quarter sales were flat at 3.4 million.
U.S. sales at Toyota Motor Corp., Hyundai, Kia and Subaru rose in September as the auto industry's inventory woes continue to ease. But sales fell 8.9 percent at Ford Motor Co., even as inventories grew, behind an 18 percent drop in truck volume and flat utility sales.
Third-quarter volume surged at General Motors but slid at Stellantis and Nissan Motor Co.
GM's third-quarter sales, helped by higher inventory, jumped 25 percent, with volume rising 30 percent at Chevrolet, 24 percent at GMC and 50 percent at Cadillac. Only Buick posted lower sales during the period, with volume down 27 percent. In addition to strong retail demand for SUVs, crossovers and pickup trucks, GM said fleet deliveries rose 66 percent in the latest quarter.
GM closed the third quarter with 359,292 vehicles in dealer stockpiles, including vehicles in transit, an increase of 111,453 from the second quarter, and nearly three times the inventory recorded at the end of 2021's third quarter.
Toyota Motor posted its first increase in monthly sales since July 2021, with volume last month rising 17 percent, with a 21 percent gain at the Toyota division eclipsing a 4.3 percent decline at Lexus. While the Toyota brand snapped a 13-month losing streak, Lexus sales have now dropped 8 straight months year over year.
Still, Toyota's third-quarter U.S. sales slipped 7.1 percent to 526,017, making GM the top seller in the period and year-to-date by healthy margins.
Toyota said it ended September with a 20-day supply of cars and light trucks in the U.S., or 140,810 units, with 117,888 at ports or in transit and 22,922 in dealer stock.