It's a little hard to interpret, as the Cash for Clunkers program last August created a frenzy, with auto shoppers snapping up every small car on the lot at some dealerships. Some analysts speculated that a significant chunk of those who bought during the program were merely moving the purchase up a few months.
Looking at General Motors, Chrysler Group, and especially Ford Motor Co. [NYSE:F], there was some reason to be optimistic about the market. Each of those Detroit automakers reported sales up this September versus last September. GM's sales were up by 12 percent—even though it has four fewer brands—and Ford's were up 46 percent versus last September. Chrysler's sales were up by 61 percent, to just over 100,000 vehicles, but that automaker had nearly ground to a halt last year at this time.
September sales were down overall, as well as for most brands, versus August, but that's a seasonal pattern that's expected. Chrysler and Ford, however, saw sales up nearly five percent versus the previous month. At Ford, it was thanks to booming F-150 sales, along with strong sales for the Fusion and Escape, as well as the new 2011 Fiesta.
Overall, according to the Wall Street Journal, four of the top six automakers reported higher sales versus last year.
While most other brands also reported a drop in sales from August to September, Subaru, Volkswagen, Nissan, and Kia saw sales up versus last September.
Toyota also showed signs of recovery, with its sales up 17 percent in September, versus August, thanks to the stronger truck sales.