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A September to remember

by Bill Cawthon on

What a month! Chrysler’s September sales blew past the most optimistic analyst forecast (Brian Johnson of Barclay’s 25%) and Chrysler had the highest market share gain percentage of any manufacturer. Chrysler’s September share was 12.1 percent, up from 10.4 percent last September. Year-to-date (YTD) market share is 10.6 percent, up from 9.5 percent for the first nine months of 2010.

Last month, Chrysler Group came in third among all automakers, nearly 6,000 sales ahead of Toyota Motor Sales and more than 37,800 ahead of American Honda. It also beat the combined totals of Hyundai and Kia, once forecast to pass Chrysler in sales, by just shy of 40,000 sales. Toyota is still ahead in YTD sales, but Chrysler has outsold the Japanese juggernaut multiple times in recent months.

Chrysler has now posted improved sales for eighteen consecutive months. As of the end of September, the company is 75,800 sales shy of its sales for all of last year. It should beat its 2010 numbers sometime this month.

Chrysler won the minivan wars: the Town & Country was the top-selling minivan in September and the Dodge Caravan is the top-selling minivan over the first nine months of 2011. September’s minivan sales were up 14.7 percent over last year; YTD they’re up 8.2 percent.

September was a strong truck month, which worked out well for Chrysler. The market share for light trucks was 53.8 percent, up almost three points from September 2010. Full-size pickup sales exploded; up 24.8 percent compared to last September and accounting for 13.8 percent of all light vehicle sales. Ram sales soared higher than any other vehicle in September, up 45.2 percent. Mid-Size SUVs were also popular, up 34.8 percent.

In addition to grabbing the top three spots in the rankings, the Detroit Three increased their total market share by more than three points to 48.3 percent. For the first nine months of the year, the share is 47.4 percent, up 2.3 percent from the first three quarters of 2010.

General Motors’ sales rose 19.7 percent, in line with analyst forecasts, while Ford came in 9 percent ahead, a bit higher than predicted.

General Motors boasted of a 19 percent increase in retail sales, saying that consumers accounted for 74 percent of deliveries. Sales of the Daewoo-designed, Ohio-built Sonic got off to a decent start as 1,426 buyers adopted four-wheeled blue hedgehogs. The Cruze continued to sell well, but the Fusion recaptured the title of best-selling American-badged car both for the month and in YTD sales. GM pasenger cars sales were up, but the growth in truck sales was nearly double that for cars. Silverado pickup sales climbed 35.8 percent and Sierra sales increased by 25.5 percent.

Ford car sales dropped 8.7 percent but an 18.2 percent increase in truck sales covered the deficit. The F-Series is well on its way to chalking up another year as America’s favorite light vehicle: it’s lead over the second-place Silverado is so big that if Chevy sales continued at the same pace, Ford wouldn’t need to sell another pickup until mid-December.

Ford’s got to be hoping its new Taurus based cop car is a hit; the civilian version isn’t doing so well. Both the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger outsold it in September.

Most of the Japanese automakers seem to have recovered from the March disasters; only Toyota, Honda and Subaru missed their numbers last month. It’s looking like Honda’s problems aren’t all earthquake-related: sales of the new Civic are down sharply and those of the Accord are also weak. Only four models in the entire Honda/Acura lineup finished September ahead of where they were a year ago.

Hyundai and Kia both set new sales records; Kia beat the numbers from its previous best sales year in September.

Audi and Mercedes also set new September records; Audi has now set new records for eight consecutive months. Volkswagen sales soared 35.6 percent; the new Chattanooga-built Passat got off to a good start with 3,176 sales and 777 buyers took home New New Beetles.

Industry-wide, light vehicle sales totaled 1,053,722 units, 9.9 percent ahead of last September. YTD sales are now up 10.4 percent. The September figures yielded a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 13.1 million, about 1.28 million units over last September and the highest SAAR since April. GM executives believe the market will hit around 13 million this year, but it’s a stretch; monthly sales volume would have to average nearly 1.18 million vehicles in each of the three remaining months of 2011 and they’ve only bettered that number once this year. A better bet is to look at a number around 12.7 million.

One likely change coming soon will be the end of the disaster-induced product shortages at Toyota and Honda. Both are ramping up production as fast as they can to salvage the rest of the year. Most industry watchers think the times of automakers being able to get away with record-low incentives are coming to an end. The last quarter of 2011 may provide the best buying opportunities this year as the Japanese try to recoup lost market share and Detroit does its best to keep what it has won. The pent-up demand is there: the average age of vehicles on American roads is now an all-time high 10.7 years and late-model used cars have become so scarce they sometimes sell for more than the price of a new car. It’s going to be up to the automakers to entice the would-be buyers into dealer showrooms and this is going to take cash.

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.

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