01 October 2009

After Clunkers, Ford Sales Still A Bright Spot

Story from Detroit Free Press

Ford Motor Co. — whose 5% sales decline in September outperformed the industry’s 23% plummet — picked up 3 percentage points of market share last month, the 11th straight month Ford captured more showroom customers.

“This was an extremely volatile three-month period,” said Ken Czubay, Ford’s top U.S. sales chief. “It really put Ford to the test. We believe Ford passed.”

Ford was one of the few bright spots during September, as the expected hangover from the federal cash-for-clunkers sales boon, which depleted car and truck inventories nationwide, was far worse than many expected.

Several automakers reported an increase in shopping traffic during the last part of the month that gave them hope that a recovery, however slight, would be more evident in October. But that wasn’t very evident in the bottom line.

While Hyundai Motor Co. managed to post a standout 27% sales gain in September, sales were off for most major automakers last month. General Motors Co. was down 45%, while Chrysler Group LLC fell 42.1%.

September’s performance looked even worse considering that last September — when Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and kicked off a global financial crisis — was the worst sales month in 15 years.

October, automakers said, would be the true bellwether for the state of the industry and the economic recovery.
Sept. sales are 2nd-worst month of 2009

“September was a pretty difficult month from Day One right on through to the end of the month,” said Mark LaNeve, vice president of U.S. sales for GM.

The sales rate in September declined to 9.22 million — the lowest rate since February, according to Autodata Corp. The selling rate is what the sales would total for the year if demand remained constant, adjusted for seasonal factors.

Automakers said sales of new cars and trucks dropped severely in early September after federal funding for the government’s cash-for clunkers program expired.

The buying spree that the program created began in late July and continued through late August. It was so successful that it depleted inventory at dealerships across the country and pulled ahead some buyers who normally would have waited until fall.

That left dealerships with a 29-day supply of cars and trucks at the end of August — the lowest since at least 1975, according to WardsAuto.com.

GM’s pain was spread across the board. Sales of its top-selling Chevrolet Silverado pickup dropped 61.5%. Its key post-bankruptcy brands all disappointed. Sales fell 53% for GMC, 41% for Chevy and 33% for Buick. Only Cadillac beat the industry, with a 9% decline.

GM’s soon-to-be-castoff Saturn brand posted an 84% plummet.

“I’d say September underperformed expectations,” LaNeve said.
Automakers: We still see recovery

While LaNeve characterized the pace of sales throughout September as lousy, both Ford and Toyota Motor Corp. said the pace of sales increased during the month and all three said they expect the sales rate to rise this year.

"We definitely see the economy improving,” said Mike DiGiovanni, GM’s executive director of global market and industry analysis. “It’s going to be a bumpy road, but we are on the way to a recovery.”

Toyota, a major beneficiary of this summer’s cash-for-clunkers program, saw its September sales fall 13%.

“The truth is, we could have sold more cars if we had them” in September, said Don Esmond, senior vice president of Toyota’s U.S. division. “We saw a positive improvement week after week in showroom traffic.”

Chrysler said it struggled with inventory issues in September both because of cash-for-clunkers and because it stopped production entirely from May 1 through June 28 while it went through bankruptcy reorganization.

Bill Golling, who owns a Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge dealership in Bloomfield Hills, said he had a lot of minivans in September, but very few small cars, which hampered sales.

“The inventory situation should be better as October goes along,” Golling said.

No comments: