October Auto Sales: The Leading Edge Of An Economic Rebound?

November 1, 2011
2012 Chrysler 200 sedan

2012 Chrysler 200 sedan

While U.S. economic news is hardly good, somehow auto sales again proved to be a bright spot in October.

As the housing sector remains on a downward slide in much of the country, manufacturing growth slowed, and economists wondered how Greece's nearing economic meltdown will affect the global economy, Americans are buying cars at a surprisingly hot rate. At early tallies, industry-wide auto sales this past month looked about ten percent higher than last October.

General Motors [NYSE: GM] and Ford Motor Co. [NYSE: F] both reported modest gains year-over-year, but it was Chrysler that really picked up the pace in October. Sales of the Chrysler brand itself were up 28 percent, compared to last October, while company-wide, gains were almost as good, at 27 percent.

Volkswagen, which just started assembling 2012 Passat models in Tennessee, reported sales up about 40 percent, and Hyundai sales were up 23 percent, both compared to last October. And Kia continued to surge, with its calendar-year-to-date sales now more than 35 percent higher than this time in 2010. Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Volvo also showed especially strong gains from last October.

The continued growth for those two Korean brands is all the more impressive when considering that Incentives for Hyundai and Kia, among major automakers, remained the lowest in the business—about $1,145 per vehicle, and down 23 percent from last year, according to TrueCar.com. Chrysler has managed to roll back some of its incentives, but it still gives out the most per vehicle; Honda, Nissan, and Toyota are also offering higher incentives than last year.

Honda revealed this past week that production of some of its models will be affected by the flooding in Thailand; furthermore, we reported today, it might also affect the rollout of a redesigned 2012 Honda CR-V. This comes on the heels of a dragging recovery from supply interruptions resulting from the catastrophic March earthquake in Japan.

Analyists for months have suggested that the auto industry is bucking the general economic trends because shell-shocked Americans had simply deferred vehicle purchases as long as they could.

That theory is beginning to be replaced with real optimism that this news might indicate that the economy is bouncing back on 'Main Street' terms. There are some signs that more Americans are finding jobs—and a number of economists expect good news in the next federal jobs figures for October, due this Friday. As a hint of that, the polling firm Gallup found in mid-October that unemployment was around 8.3 percent, down from 9.2 in late August and 10.0 a year ago. Gallup also noticed a significant drop in 'underemployment'—those working part-time who want to be full-time.

Read on for more details from the individual automakers:

General Motors: Chevrolet sales were up 6 percent, but slower sales at GMC, Buick, and Cadillac saw the automaker's figure up 2 percent versus last October. Retail deliveries were up a more impressive three percent. The automaker attributed the launch of the new Chevrolet Sonic and Buick LaCrosse eAssist, as well as strong sales of the Chevy Equinox and Camaro, plus the Cadillac SRX, Buick Regal, and GMC Terrain. More than 1,100 Chevy Volt models were delivered this past month.

Ford: Compared to last October, Ford Motor Company sales were up 6 percent versus last year. Leading that surge were sales of the company's utility vehicles, like the Explorer and Escape. And even though the Escape is about to be replaced, sales of the aged crossover were up 31 percent versus last year and at a record 206,696 sold so far this year. Fiesta, Focus, and Fusion were also up versus last October, while Ford-brand trucks were up a significant 8 percent from year-ago levels.

Chrysler: October sales were up 27 percent compared to last October, and Chrysler says it was the best October since 2007. The redesigned Compass sold 5,179 units, and the refreshed Jeep Wrangler moved 9,892 units. The Chrysler brand itself was up 28 percent, buoyed by the Chrysler 200, and Ram-truck sales were up 21 percent. So far, 2011 CYTD sales are up 23 percent through October, compared to the same period in 2010.

2012 Toyota Camry XLE

2012 Toyota Camry XLE

Toyota / Lexus: Down 4.3 percent from October last year, with Toyota down 3.2 percent (yet up from September) and Lexus down 2.9 percent). Scion was down 18.3 percent, with sharp drops of the xB and xD, versus last October. Toyota and Lexus SUVs and crossovers were also down overall. Sales of hybrids were down a significant 7.4 percent versus last year, but this may represent a supply interruption at showrooms as 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid models were just starting to arrive. Camry sales also lagged, with deliveries of the 2012 ramping up. Inventories remained low, overall, at just 26 selling days.

Honda / Acura: Honda saw its sales up 3.3 percent over last October, to 98,333 vehicles, as supplies were finally replenished from supply interruptions and the earthquake earlier this year. Three of its U.S.-made vehicles—the Pilot, CR-V, and Odyssey, saw the largest gains, while Civic and Civic Hybrid sales remained down versus last October. Acura posted sales of 11,115 vehicles, up 4.8 percent from last October, while year-to-date sales remained down 6.6 percent.

Nissan / Infiniti: Nissan-brand sales were up 22.1 percent compared to last October, to 61,843, led by the new 2012 Versa Sedan in its first month of sales, and aided by strong sales of the Altima and Rogue. The automaker delivered 846 LEAF electric cars during the month. On the Infiniti side, sales were down 13.5 percent versus last year, although both the G37 Sedan and QX56 were up significantly.

Hyundai: Hyundai sold 52,402 vehicles in October, a 23-percent increase compared to year-ago levels (27 percent for retail sales), and it topped its year-to-date sales record, with about 545,000 vehicles sold YTD through October. The Veloster began to arrive at dealerships during the month, while the Elantra and Sonata combined sold more than 31,000 during October alone.

Kia: Led by Optima, Soul, and Sportage, Kia finished October strong at 37,690—21 percent higher than last October. Year-to-date, the brand has topped 405,000 sales and is up more than 35 percent versus 2010.

Volkswagen: VW continued its sales surge in the U.S., with a 39.6-percent gain in October, versus last year, to 28,028. The brand sold 5,040 Passats in its first month—the most since December 2005—and Jetta, GTI, Golf, Tiguan, and Tuareg were all up. Year-to-date, sales are up 23.8 percent.

BMW / MINI: The BMW Group altogether saw sales increase 17.5 percent in October, compared to the same period last year, buoyed by strong sales of the X3 and X5 crossovers. Mini sales were up 37.1 percent from October 2010, while thanks mostly to the new Countryman, the brand's sales are up 22.1 percent year-to-date, to 47,050.

Mercedes-Benz: Sales were up in October, with 24,449 vehicles sold; that's 28.2 percent higher than October 2010. Year-to-date, the automaker is still up 12 percent in the U.S. The redesigned 2012 C-Class led the brand's sales performance, with 7,084 sold (up nearly 88 percent from last year), but strong sales of the E-Class and redesigned M-Class also contributed to the gains.

Subaru: Retail sales for Subaru were down 11.6 percent compared to last October, but retail sales remained up 4.4 percent, year to date. Impreza sales were down sharply, before the redesigned 2012 model sees first deliveries next month. Yet Subaru also reported its best-ever October for Legacy and Outback sales.

Mazda: Mazda highlighted its strongest October sales since 2007, with a 1.7-percent increase from October of last year, to 18,326 vehicles. The Mazda6 showed signs of new life, with that mid-size sedan's strongest October since 2008, while the CX-7 and Mazda2 showed gains.

Audi: The German luxury brand reported its best October sales ever, up 25.8 percent from last year, to 10,225. Audi reports that its top entries—the A6, A7, A8, and Q7—now make up 29 percent of its U.S. sales, and 14 out of the past 15 months have set monthly records. Calendar-year-to-date sales, versus the same period last year, are also up 16.5 percent. TDI diesel models are accounting for 45 percent of A3 sales and 43 percent of Q7 sales.

Mitsubishi: Sales for the Japanese automaker were down 14 percent versus last October, yet Mitsubishi's year-to-date sales remain well above 2010 YTD sales at this point last year. The Outlander Sport had a strong sales showing, with 1,268 sold in October.

Volvo: Sales for the brand, led by strong sales of the S60 sport sedan, were up 22.6 percent in October 2011, versus October 2010. Year-to-date, the brand is up a significant 26.5 percent so far versus last year.

Jaguar/Land Rover: Not yet reported.

Suzuki: Not yet reported.

Saab: Not yet reported.

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