General Motors Co., Nissan Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV topped analysts’ September sales estimates, while Ford Motor Co. reported results in line with expectations, suggesting there still may be some steam left in the U.S. auto industry’s six-year growth spurt.
“We continue seeing strong customer demand, especially for vans and pickup trucks,” Mark LaNeve, Ford’s U.S. vice president of marketing, sales and service, said in a statement. “Demand for a rich mix of our all-new Super Duty pickups helped boost Ford’s average transaction prices by $1,100 versus a year ago.”
GM, the largest U.S. automaker, said on Monday that it saw sales decline 0.6% to 249,795 cars and light trucks, beating analysts estimates’ of a 1.6% drop. GM said retail sales to individual customers grew 1% last month, as Buick sales jumped 14% and Cadillac sales rose 3.1%. Chevrolet Silverado pickup sales fell 16%, while GMC Yukon sales rose 34%.
Fiat Chrysler reported a decline of 0.9%, compared with the average estimate for a drop of 5.1%. Sales of all of its brands fell in September, except the Ram Truck line, which jumped 27%. Ram pickup sales rose 29%.
Automakers will be reporting September results throughout Monday, giving investors new evidence to determine whether the industry’s growth streak is coming to an end or if there is more steam in the economy. Concerns that U.S. auto sales are slowing have depressed automakers’ shares this year, even as the companies report strong profits amid consistently high volumes.
Ford, which enjoyed elevated fleet sales in the second half of 2015 and first half of this year, sold 203,444 cars and light truck in September, matching analysts’ estimates for an 8% drop. Ford’s car sales fell 21%, while its top-selling F-Series pickups declined by 2.6% and SUV sales dropped 3.4%.
Nissan sold 127,797 cars and light trucks in the U.S. last month, a 4.9% gain from a year earlier. That compares with the average analyst projection was for a decrease of 1.4%, as pricey sport utility vehicles continue to move off dealer lots. Sales of the Murano SUV rose 46%, and the popular Rogue was up 5.6%.
Toyota Motor Corp. reported 197,260 deliveries for a gain of 1.5%, missing the 2% average estimate.
After six years of annual sales increases — the longest such streak since before World War II — the industry surprised analysts with a record 17.5 million sales last year. While some argue that more economic growth may release further pent-up demand, many analysts and executives have said they expect a decline or little change from 2015’s record high. Ford CEO Mark Fields is among those saying the growth cycle has ended.
“The industry has plateaued,” he said last week on Bloomberg Television. “We are seeing some weakness in the retail end of the marketplace that’s manifesting itself through more competitive pressures.”
September’s annualized rate, adjusted for seasonal trends, may be 17.5 million, the average estimate of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. That would be down from last September, when the industry reported the first of three straight months of an 18 million or faster pace.
Through August, sales were running 0.6% ahead of last year’s pace, and analysts are split on whether this year will finish up a little or down slightly. August’s annualized rate was 17 million.
September reports should show a “very, very solid month,” said Bill Fay, head of U.S. sales for Toyota’s namesake brand. U.S. consumer confidence rose last month to the highest level since before the recession on optimism about the labor market, the New York-based Conference Board said last week. Available credit and relatively low gasoline prices are also encouraging big-ticket purchases, he said.
“We’re still bullish,” he said, “that the next couple years will be maybe not at record levels, but pretty darn close.”
By Jamie Butters, Keith Naughton and David Welch, with assistance from John Lippert.