According to the research firm Autodata, overall, 1.19 million cars, trucks and SUVs were sold in the United States during the month. That’s a 13% increase over a year ago. German and Japanese automobiles were the top sellers.
Autodata reported that September’s sales were equal to about 14.9 million vehicles sold annually, the highest seasonally adjusted rate since February 2008.
Those analyzing auto sales said the numbers were in part a result of consumers taking advantage of new fuel-efficient vehicles.
“The industry is continuing its comeback the old-fashioned way: with new products, better inventory management and historically cheap loans,” said Jesse Toprak, an analyst with the auto research Web site TrueCar.com. Altogether industry sales are up 14.5% through the first nine months of the year, compared to the first nine months of last year.
Toyota and Honda enjoyed much of the sales success. The increased sales were a major boost to the two Japanese automakers, both of which suffered significant shortages of product following the recent earthquake and tsunami in their country.
“We all underestimated the strength of the Toyota and Honda brands and their customer loyalty,” Toprak said. “They have not only gained back their market share, but increased it.”
According to Toyota, it sold 171,000 vehicles in September, a 41.5% increase over last year. Sales of its Prius model, a gas and electric hybrid, more than doubled, said a company spokesperson.
Honda reported its sales increased 30.9% to 117,000 vehicles. Demand remains high for its two best-sellers, the Civic and Accord. The company began selling a new version of the Accord in mid-September.
Meanwhile, General Motors and Ford reported relatively flat sales, largely owing to a drop in demand for trucks.
GM said its overall sales grew by 1.5% in September, its best results for that month since 2008. Most of those sales were passenger vehicles, which saw a 29% gain Sales of the company’s trucks, on the other hand, dropped by 20%. An executive from GM said the manufacturer was attempting to keep truck inventories low as it focused on launching new passenger car models such as the Chevrolet Spark.
“Passenger cars have been the launch point for a broad and deep G.M. product offensive,” said Kurt McNeil, vice president for United States sales.
At Ford, truck sales dropped 7.6%, canceling gains made by new cars and SUVS, including the Ford Fusion and Escape. The company’s total September sales were down 0.2%. Its best sales results, at an increase of 73%, were in small cars.
“Fuel economy remains one of the most important features customers want today,” said Ken Czubay, Ford’s head of United States marketing, sales and service.
Ford’s top seller, the F-series pickup, grew only by 1.2% during September.
An industry analyst, however, said that stock investors believe a increase in housing starts will eventually spur more pickup sales.
“The most popular theme in auto land appears to be to buy companies with pickup exposure,” Brian Johnson of Barclays wrote in a recent research report.
Chrysler, in the meantime, continues to rebound steadily after weak sales and a government bailout and bankruptcy in 2009.
A company spokesperson said last month’s sales increased 11.5% from the previous year, making September its 30th straight month of year-over-year sales gains. It sold 142,000 vehicles, with each of its brands seeing gains. Dodge led sales with an 18% increase, partly a result of the introduction of its Dodge Dart compact sedan. The Dart is the first high-mileage economy car Chrysler has manufactured since it was acquired by Fiat, the Italian automaker. Its Ram pickups saw a 4% increase in sales.
“Going forward with our current product lineup, record low interest rates and a stable U.S. economy, we remain optimistic about the health of the U.S. new-vehicle sales industry and our position in it,” said Chrysler’s top American sales executive Reid Bigland.
Other automakers reporting September sales results were Nissan, which suffered a 1.1% sales decline from a year ago, and Volkswagen, which saw a 32.4% increase in sales over the same time last year.