General Motors Co., Chrysler Group and Nissan Motor Co. boosted US sales in August by more than analysts estimated as shortages of smaller cars tempered industry gains. GM deliveries rose 18 per cent to 218,479 cars and light trucks, Detroit-based GM said in an e-mailed statement. Chrysler sales surged 31 per cent and Nissan climbed 19 per cent.
US vehicle sales ran at a 12.1 million seasonally adjusted annual rate in August, Autodata Corp. said, matching the average estimate of 14 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Shortages of cars such as Ford Motor Co.'s Focus and inventory constraints for Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. limited industry gains from an 11.5 million sales pace a year earlier.
"I wouldn't say anyone is jumping up and down about these numbers because they are just meeting our more moderate expectations," Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with IHS Automotive in Lexington, Massachusetts, said. "This is the third year of auto sales not being up where the US market should be, but the economy is just not letting us get there."
The US averaged annual sales of 16.8 million vehicles from 2000 to 2007, according to Autodata. The pace of US auto sales averaged 12.5 million light vehicles in the first half before slowing to 12.2 million in July.
Deliveries at Toyota fell 13 per cent to 129,483, according to a statement. Sales of Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles were expected to drop 11 per cent, the average estimate of four analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Sales for Honda declined 24 per cent, the company said on its website. The average of four analysts' estimates was for a 25 per cent decline.
Honda's US sales slid more than 20 per cent for the fourth straight month.
GM's Chevrolet Cruze benefited from lingering shortages of small cars such as Toyota's Corolla and Honda's Civic after the March tsunami and earthquake in Japan disrupted production. GM and Ford said sales of their Cruze and Focus compacts could have been higher with more inventory.
Cruze ended August with 33 days supply, said Don Johnson, vice-president of US sales, less than the industry standard of about 60 days. Ford also was constrained by inventory of Fiesta subcompacts, said Ken Czubay, its US sales chief.
Focus and Fiesta
"We expect to be able to close the gap between supply and demand on Focus and Fiesta," Czubay said yesterday on a conference call. "There is little doubt in our minds that Focus and Fiesta sales will grow as inventory is normalised."
GM's sales increase beat the 17 per cent average estimate of seven analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Chrysler topped six analysts' average estimate for a 16 per cent rise, and Nissan exceeded four analysts' average estimate of 18 per cent.
Ford, based in Dearborn, Michigan, reported an 11 per cent increase in light-vehicle sales, less than the average of seven estimates for a 15 per cent gain. Deliveries of Focus dropped 8.9 per cent to 14,093.
Sinking consumer confidence and tempered projections for economic growth has prompted at least a dozen analysts to lower estimates for light-vehicle deliveries for this year and next.
Confidence among US consumers plunged in August to the lowest level in more than two years, the New York-based Conference Board said on Tuesday. The US economy may grow by less than 3 per cent through 2013, helping keep the unemployment rate above 8 per cent during that span, the Congressional Budget Office said in an August 24 report.
"We're all trying to get our arms around the recovery," Paul Ballew, chief economist for Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., said in a phone interview. "Auto sales results are comforting because they're in line with the fact that we're probably not seeing a double-dip. Demand is inching up a bit."
Hyundai Motor Co.'s August deliveries increased 9.1 per cent to 58,505 vehicles, the company said in a statement. Kia Motors Corp. said in a statement its August sales rose 27 per cent to 41,188. Combined sales for the two Seoul-based partners, which operate separately in the US, totaled 99,693, behind only GM, Ford, Chrysler and Toyota for the month.
GM's Cruze deliveries climbed to 21,807, almost four times the year-earlier sales of the Cobalt compact that it replaced last year. Cruze was the top-selling compact car for the fourth- straight month and exceeded 20,000 deliveries the last five months.
"GM has been on a bit of a roll," Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive officer of auto researcher Edmunds.com in Santa Monica, California, said in a telephone interview. "The inventory shortage at Toyota and Honda has created an opportunity for everybody and they're not letting it slip by."
Inventories are rising for GM outside of vehicles like Cruze and the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain sport-utility vehicles. Vehicle stock on dealer lots rose by about 19,000 to 556,884 cars and light trucks, with full-size pickup inventories increasing by about 3,200 trucks to 212,520.
"The market may be concerned that GM is ‘playing chicken' with the macro-environment and could get caught out with large production cuts and/or price discounting should the underlying market not recover as GM appears to have anticipated," Adam Jonas, a New York-based analyst at Morgan Stanley, said yesterday in a research note.
Industrywide light-vehicle deliveries may rise to 12.7 million cars and light trucks this year, the average of 18 analysts' estimates in a Bloomberg survey. The average estimate in April was for 2011 sales of 13 million light vehicles.
Sales may climb to 13.6 million in 2012, the average of 15 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Of the analysts surveyed, 13 have reduced their estimates from earlier this year.
Nissan used the better availability to drive "aggressive sales promotions," Brian Johnson, a New York-based analyst at Barclays Capital, wrote in an August 25 report. Nissan brand sales rose 22 per cent to 82,517, Katherine Zachary, a spokeswoman, said in a phone interview. Deliveries of its Infiniti luxury brand fell 4.3 per cent to 9,024.
Nissan began the month with 54 days supply of cars and trucks, according to Himanshu Patel, a JPMorgan Chase & Co. analyst. Toyota had 34 days supply of vehicles, while Honda had 27, Patel said in an August 29 report.
No payments for 90 days
Chrysler, majority owned by Fiat SpA, ran a no payments for 90 days promotion for some buyers of 2011 and 2012 Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram models in August.
Grand Cherokee, Compass and Wrangler models propelled the Jeep brand to a 58 per cent increase. Chrysler sold 130,119 vehicles in August compared with 99,611 a year ago.
Volkswagen AG's namesake brand sales climbed 10 per cent to 25,232, according to an e-mailed statement. Deliveries of its Jetta compact sedan surged 36 per cent to 14,500. The brand is on target to reach 328,000 sales in the US, Frank Trivieri, vice-president of sales, said on a conference call.
Hurricane Irene interfered with auto deliveries in states that represent about 30 per cent of the total US sales, said Paul Taylor, chief economist at the National Automobile Dealers Association.
"About 3,000 units were left on the table last month, because of the storm," Al Castignetti, Nissan's vice-president of US sales, said in a phone interview. GM, which said it may have lost about 1,000 sales due to the hurricane, will offer buyers $500 (Dh1,840) toward a new-vehicle purchase or lease in affected disaster areas.