Honda and Hyundai posted U.S. sales increases in October while Nissan and Toyota fell as the industry – aided by richer incentives -- kicked off the fourth quarter with a shot at hitting 17 million total deliveries for a fifth straight year.
Honda Motor Co. rode a sharp rise in light truck deliveries to a 7.6 percent advance, while Hyundai resumed its winning ways with an 8 percent gain. They and the rest of the industry are coming off a tough September, when quirks surrounding the reporting of Labor Day holiday sales contributed to an overall 12 percent decline.
Toyota Motor Corp., however, wasn’t able to shake its September slump in falling 1.2 percent. Nissan Motor Co. was down 5.8 percent, its fourth decline in five months.
For the second straight quarter, each of the Detroit 3 is skipping monthly releases. Ford Motor Co., General Motors and Fiat Chrysler will next report sales on Monday, Jan. 4, when their fourth-quarter tallies will be issued.
The Automotive News Data Center, which estimates overall industry volume fell 1.8 percent last month, projected deliveries dropped an estimated 12 percent at General Motors, which was hurt by a UAW strike, 1.9 percent at Ford Motor Co. and 2.8 percent at FCA US.
U.S. light-vehicle sales were forecast to rise slightly in October, helped by an extra selling day and fatter discounts, according to analysts at Cox Automotive and J.D. Power, while ALG saw industry volume falling.
Some analysts now say they expect the year’s sales to top 17 million. That would be above the consensus forecast at the start of the year, when few analysts thought the industry could sustain a streak above that mark that began in 2015.
Industry volume was off 1.6 percent through September, according to the Automotive News Data Center. If that rate of decline holds, it wouldn’t be enough to drag the industry below 17 million.
Company by company
Honda Motor’s October increase was fueled by an 18 percent rise in light-truck deliveries at the Honda brand. Volume rose 8.2 percent at the Honda division and 2.4 percent at Acura. Overall, American Honda said car demand dropped 1.5 percent while light-truck demand surged 15 percent last month.
At Toyota, sales fell for the second month in row in October, behind weaker car and truck deliveries. The company said overall U.S. sales dropped 1.2 percent, with volume falling 1.6 percent at the Toyota division and rising 1.9 percent at Lexus.
Light-truck volume fell 2.4 percent at the Toyota brand, behind weaker demand for the Tacoma pickup, Sienna minivan and Highlander crossover, even as two other CUVs -- the RAV4 and C-HR -- set October sales records. Combined car sales at Toyota and Lexus dropped 2.8 percent while light-truck deliveries at the two brands fell 0.3 percent.
A 14 percent decline in car sales led to the October decline at Nissan Motor The Nissan brand was down 3.7 percent and Infiniti fell 23 percent, for its 10th straight decline. Nissan continues to reduce fleet shipments and curtail discounts. The company's average incentive for October fell 3 percent, according to ALG. (See chart below.)
Hyundai’s October U.S. sales rose 8 percent to 57,094, reflecting strong retail demand for the brand’s expanded crossover lineup.
While car deliveries dropped last month, Hyundai said retail sales of three CUVs -- Santa Fe, Tucson and Kona -- each rose by 16 percent or more while the new Palisade crossover racked up deliveries of 4,357. October fleet shipments dropped 8 percent and represented 16 percent of all sales, Hyundai said.
Volume rose 0.2 percent at Subaru, 11 percent at Kia and Mazda posted only its second increase of the year, with October deliveries rising 4.5 percent. Sales fell 7.9 percent at Mitsubishi and 18 percent at Mini. At the Volkswagen brand, volume fell for the fourth month this year with October deliveries off 3.2 percent.
Among other luxury brands, deliveries rose 19 percent at Audi, 20 percent at Volvo, 13 percent at Porsche, 3.1 percent at Land Rover and 420 percent to 1,935 at Genesis. Jaguar volume fell 11 percent.
Healthy fleet demand continues to offset weaker retail deliveries.
In recent years, the final quarter has proved strong for industry volume, helped by year-end deals and holiday promotions. With consumer confidence still high, incentives rising and another interest rate cut this week, some analysts see a year-end bump on the horizon as shoppers put trade and recession worries aside.
LMC this week raised its forecast for 2019 total U.S. light-vehicle sales by 50,000 units to 17.1 million, representing a decline of 0.9 percent from 2018’s 17.335 million tally.
Still, while employment growth remains solid, new-vehicle affordability is undermining retail sales, analysts say. New-vehicle prices in October are on track to be the highest ever, exceeding $34,000 for the first time and up almost $1,300 from a year ago, J.D. Power said.
The seasonally adjusted, annualized rate of sales is expected to come in between 16.9 million and 17 million, based on the average estimate of analysts from Cox Automotive, J.D. Power/LMC and True Car/ALG.
The SAAR has topped 17 million five out of nine months this year, signaling the market remains healthy.