Easy credit, rising consumer confidence and strong demand for utility vehicles and trucks pushed new vehicle sales upward towards a seasonally adjusted average rate of 17 million units in August, helping the auto industry maintain the momentum it had built up throughout the summer.
Chrysler, Ford, Audi, Nissan, Hyundai, Toyota all posted sales gains during August while General Motors and Volkswagen reported their sales dropped last month despite the strong consumer demand for new cars and trucks.
The strong results defied analyst expectations of a small overall increase of just .1%. In fact, multiple automakers reported they expected industry-wide August sales to rise 3% overall. The early reports support their assertions.
In fact, Ford, Nissan and Toyota were expected to see small declines, but defied conventional wisdom by posting positive results. Only GM and VW hit the expected declines predicted. Chrysler and several others exceeded the positive estimates with their results.
“Chrysler Group sales soared 20% last month resulting in our strongest August sales in 12 years,” said Reid Bigland, head of U.S. Sales, who said brisk sales of utility vehicles and trucks paced Chrysler sales.
“Our Jeep brand continued its torrid sales pace recording its best August sales ever and our Ram Truck brand contributed with a massive 39% sales increase, both helping Chrysler Group achieve its 53rd-consecutive month of year-over-year sales growth.”
Ford Motor Co. said sales increased a mere 0.4% from a year ago, but it still was the best August sales in eight years. John Felice, Ford vice president, U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service, said it also was another solid month for the Ford F-Series, which again topped 60,000 sales and maintained its lead as the best-selling pickup in the U.S.
Fusion and Escape also set sales record last month, while Explorer sales surged 25% for the best August since 2004, Felice said. Lincoln sales are up 13% year-to-date through August – a pace expected to increase the rest of the year.
Toyota posted a jump of 6.3% last month, defying analysts’ estimates of a drop of more than 2%.
“The industry had its best August in over a decade with sales topping 1.5 million vehicles,” said Bill Fay, Toyota division group vice president and general manager. “Boosted by standout SUV sales and a record-shattering month for RAV4, Toyota was the number 1 retail manufacturer in August.”
Nissan Group broke another monthly U.S. sales record with 134,388 deliveries in August, an increase of 11.5 % over the prior year. While Chrysler Group rightfully brags about its streak of 53 consecutive months of sales increases, Nissan is working on a significant streak of its own. With the August results up, the company posted year-over-year increases in retail sales for 22 consecutive months.
“August’s industry sales results are looking even stronger than anticipated, which is a good sign for the industry,” said Fred Diaz, senior vice president, Sales & Marketing and Operations U.S., Nissan, noting sales of the electric Leaf jumped 31% last month.
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Hyundai sales also increased by almost 7%, according to reports. The Korean maker was led last month by increased sale of the Santa Fe (15%), Sonata (25%) and Tucson (35%).
Audi achieved its best month ever in the U.S. with a sales increase of 22.1%. The German maker sold 17,101 vehicles in August, which resulted in the 44th consecutive month of record monthly U.S. sales for the brand.
However, in a sign that the tide of recalls may be undermining the company’s sales momentum, General Motors reported that total deliveries were down 1.2% compared with last August, which was GM’s best sales month of 2013. Retail deliveries, which are sales to individual consumers, declined 4%. Fleet deliveries were up 9% compared with a year ago, GM reported.
On the plus side, GM’s incentive spending as a percentage of average transaction prices – the amount actually paid for a vehicle – was 10.4%, the lowest of all domestic automakers by a significant margin, according to J.D. Power.
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GM spending was down a full percentage point compared with both August 2013 and July 2014 and GM also had the highest average transaction prices in the industry, according to Kelly Blue Book.
Kurt McNeil, U.S. vice president of Sales Operations, said Chevrolet, GMC and Cadillac had an outstanding month with trucks. Cars and crossovers like the Buick Encore and GMC Acadia, and the Chevrolet Sonic, Cruze and Traverse, were also strong.
“We see a strong fall selling season ahead for GM and the industry. Car-buying fundamentals like employment and energy prices are in good shape, consumer confidence has reached a post-recession high and business investment is increasing,” McNeil said.
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Volkswagen continued its difficult 2014 sales campaign dropping 13% in August.
“Similar to last month, trucks and full-size SUV/crossovers are driving average transaction price increases, as full-size truck transaction prices alone are up 5.5%,” said Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book.
“Following several redesigns, full-size SUV/crossover segment sales could have double-digit growth and transaction prices have climbed more than 7% in August. With a host of new models and gas prices trending downward, these will continue to be the hot vehicle segments,” he said.