Americans bought new cars and trucks in September at the fastest pace in more than four years.
21 car companies in the U.S. market reported 1.19 million sales, which
equals a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 14.94 million, sales
tracker Autodata calculates. That trumps the 13.14 million a year ago
and is best since 15.11 million in March 2008.
Even ho-hum results
from General Motors and Ford Motor have optimistic explanations:
They're selling as many vehicles as they did a year ago, when they were
able to exploit shortages among Japanese-brand automakers caused by the
tsunami in Japan and flooding in Thailand.
"That's pretty good.
It's a healthy market, and there still are people waiting on the
sidelines" who'll buy new vehicles if they sense economic stability,
says Jesse Toprak, head of market intelligence at TrueCar.com, a
consulting and auto-pricing company.
Still, Ford and GM are dying in troubled Europe, so they need very healthy North American sales to balance overseas losses.
usual suspects are behind the continued relative strength" in
new-vehicle sales: a "light recovery in the housing markets, stable (if
uninspiring) levels of employment, easing credit availability ... and
the need to replace aging cars," investment analyst Brian Johnson at
Barclays wrote to clients Tuesday.
The average age of vehicles on
the road is about 11 years, according to data from Polk, which tracks
vehicle registrations. That's old enough to be running up big repair
bills and making new cars and their warranties, extended-service
intervals and safety features very appealing.
Also, data from
Polk, J.D. Power and Associates and TrueCar.com all show younger buyers
returning to the market at a faster clip than expected. They are the
foundation of automakers' sales and earnings growth as they get older
and more well-off and move up through pricier models.
"I'm not worried about this running out of steam anytime soon," Toprak says.
Group was the Detroit champ, performing "beyond expectations, with all
brands posting sales higher than a year ago," notes Edmunds.com analyst
Michelle Krebs. Its sales were up 12% from a year ago, best since
- General Motors inched ahead 1.5% as car
sales jumped and truck sales stumbled, leaving GM with an outsize
116-day supply of full-size pickups. At best, that's enough to keep
dealers supplied as GM shifts to production of the next-generation
pickups next year. At worst, it's a glut that'll require big,
- Ford Motor barely held even, down 0.2%. Ford points to big increases in small-car sales, best since 2002.
- Toyota and Honda sales zoomed, showing no lingering troubles from the tsunami and flooding.
relied on trucks to keep sales from falling more than the 1.1% they
did. Nissan suffered the least of the major Japan brands during the
natural disasters, so its comparison is to a stronger sales period than
Honda and Toyota.