6 automakers report major gains in August

Jeep’s numbers best in 11 years as industry outpaces economy

9/5/2013
BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Sales in August ran at an annual rate of 16.1 million cars and trucks, a pace not seen since November, 2007.
Sales in August ran at an annual rate of 16.1 million cars and trucks, a pace not seen since November, 2007.

Even with the new Cherokee yet to arrive in dealerships, Jeep had its best August in 11 years, helping Chrysler Group LLC continue its lengthy streak of improving sales numbers.

The year has been a good one for automakers, as the industry’s recovery continues to outpace the economy as a whole. And it only got stronger in August, with the industry posting its best sales month in six years.

Six major automakers, including Chrysler, recorded double-digit sales gains last month. Honda led the pack with August sales up 27 percent to a record 166,432 vehicles. Toyota said sales were up 23 percent, Nissan’s sales were up 22 percent, General Motors Co. was up 15 percent, while Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler were up 12 percent.

Sales in August ran at an annual rate of 16.1 million cars and trucks, a pace not seen since November, 2007, a month before the start of the Great Recession.

“The auto industry continues to be a bright spot in the economic recovery,” Bill Fay, Toyota division group vice president and general manager, said in a statement. “August capped a great summer for new vehicle sales, and it was Toyota’s best month in more than five years.”

Hyundai and Kia eked out smaller gains, but both Korean automakers said they set August sales records.

Small cars and full-size pickups sold particularly well in August, though for different reasons.

Pickup sales are tied closely to the U.S. housing industry, and strength in construction usually means more truck sales. Ford said Wednesday that sales of its F-series trucks were up 22 percent last month to more than 71,000. It’s the second time this year monthly sales have topped 70,000. Ford said that hasn't happened twice in the same year since 2006.

Truck sales were also strong for Chrysler and GM. Ram truck sales were up 31 percent to 33,009, while sales of GM’s Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra rose 17 percent.

Many of the other top models were smaller cars. Sales of the Ford Fiesta, for example, were up 62 percent.

Tom Libby, lead North American analyst for automotive research firm R.L. Polk, said large cars and large sport utility vehicles are small but declining segments.

“With the exception of full-size pickups, what we’re seeing in general is a movement toward smaller vehicles,” he said.

Still, there are exceptions, and Jeep certainly is one.

Overall Jeep brand sales were up 8 percent in August to 46,239 — a remarkable feat considering Jeep has been hampered for months with a gaping hole in its vehicle lineup.

That gap should soon be closing. Chrysler hasn’t started shipping the Toledo-built 2014 Cherokees to dealerships yet, but the company says it has fixed a transmission calibration issue that had troubled Chrysler engineers.

“We are still on track to have Cherokees in dealerships in volume in September,” company spokesman Kathy Graham said.

The company has said all along that the Cherokee, which replaces the Liberty in Jeep’s lineup, would launch in the year’s third quarter. In the meantime, its current models have been selling very well. Three of Jeep’s four models, including the Toledo-built Wrangler, set August sales records. And sales of the Grand Cherokee, the only Jeep that didn’t set an August record, were up 40 percent.

Analysts continue to be optimistic about the future for a variety of reasons. Interest rates remain low, allowing carmakers to extend attractive financing offers to many buyers. The construction industry appears to be returning. The overall economy continues to pick up speed. Many new and significantly updated models are coming out soon. And U.S. drivers are still using the oldest fleet of vehicles on record.

“The industry’s really ahead of the U.S. general economy in some ways, but it’s a great time for the industry,” Mr. Libby said. “Everything’s going well.”

That includes average transaction prices. Kelley Blue Book said the average price U.S. buyers paid for a new vehicle in August was $31,657. That was down slightly from July, but up about 1 percent from August, 2012.

Chrysler Group’s average transaction price was up nearly 4 percent from last year to $32,447. It was the largest gain of any automaker. The highest average transaction price belonged to GM, at $34,527.

Polk is forecasting sales of approximately 15.6 million vehicles in 2013 and 16.1 million in 2014.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.