After the federal government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program helped prop up the auto industry in the latter half of the summer, car sales are down again.
Ford Motor Co. today (Thursday) announced that its September light-vehicle sales fell 5.1 percent to 114,241 units, down from 120,355 in the year-ago period. In the first nine months of this year, the automaker moved 1.24 million vehicles, a drop of 22 percent, compared to the 1.59 million cars and trucks Ford moved off the lot during the first three quarters of 2008.
Chrysler said it sold 62,197 vehicles last month, a drop of 42 percent from 107,349 units in September 2008. Chrysler has been hampered by an inventory shortfall, as it stopped production altogether from May 1 to June 28, while it went through its bankruptcy reorganization.
Also experiencing a steep loss was General Motors, which saw sales fall 45 percent to 155,679 vehicles. GM issued its sales report the day after the deal to sell its Saturn unit fell through, a failure that closed the books on the 20-year-old marque. Saturn’s September sales plunged nearly 84 percent.
Elsewhere, Honda sold 20 percent fewer cars and trucks than it did a year ago, while Toyota declined 13 percent and Nissan sales dipped 7 percent. Industry-wide sales figures are expected to fall as much as 25 percent from September 2008.
While September proved to be a grind for most carmakers, a few did enjoy slight gains. BMW boosted sales by 4 percent, to 19,205 vehicles, while Subaru continued to show growth, moving 14,593 units, an increase of 1 percent year-over-year.
The biggest gainer was Hyundai, which posted a remarkable 26 percent increase, selling 53,134 vehicles. September marked the automaker’s third straight monthly sales increase.
The $3 billion “Cash for Clunkers” incentive, which gave consumers credits of up to $4,500 for trading in their gas-guzzlers for more fuel-efficient vehicles, resulted in 690,114 sales in July and August. Analysts anticipated a “Clunkers” hangover would kick in almost immediately after the program went dark on August 24—a prediction echoed by Chrysler/Fiat CEO Sergio Marcchione, who a few weeks ago warned that “harsh reality” would set in.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation figures, Toyota accounted for 19.4 percent of sales during the “Cash for Clunkers” program, followed by GM (17.6 percent), Ford (14.4 percent), Honda (13 percent) and Nissan (8.7 percent). Rounding out the top 10 were: Hyundai (7.2 percent), Chrysler (6.6 percent), Kia (4.3 percent), Subaru (2.5 percent) and Mazda (2.4 percent).
While the rebate helped revitalize a staggering auto industry (year-to-date, sales are down 28 percent), it also caused some automakers to increase production.
On Sept. 23, Ford’s president and CEO Allan Mulally said that all signs pointed to an overall uptick in U.S. auto sales over the next two years. Of the Big Three, Ford is the only American automaker that did not file for bankruptcy protection.
While the September results trickle in, however, automakers are beginning to spend more on marketing. Toyota is putting together a $1 billion marketing blitz to amp up its U.S. auto sales in Q4, and GM’s new spots featuring Chairman Edward Whitacre, Jr., are in heavy rotation on broadcast and cable networks.