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VOL. 126 | NO. 193 | Tuesday, October 4, 2011

US Auto Sales Up in September on Big Trucks

DEE-ANN DURBIN & TOM KRISHER | AP Auto Writers

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DETROIT (AP) – Pickups and SUVs boosted U.S. autos sales in September as dealers offered promotions, gas prices fell and contractors replaced aging fleets of work trucks.

Truck sales at General Motors, Chrysler and Ford grew in the double digits, outpacing cars. The September increases built on a healthy performance in August, when new models, cheaper financing and pent-up demand lifted the industry after several disappointing months.

Analysts had expected more Japanese vehicles to fill showrooms after months of shortages related to March's earthquake and tsunami. But Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co., the two automakers hit hardest by the March earthquake, continued to struggle in September. Toyota sales were down 17.5 percent, while Honda's fell 8 percent.

General Motors Co.'s sales rose 20 percent compared with last September, led by a 34 percent rise in sales of full-size pickups and SUVs. Chrysler Group LLC's overall sales rose 27 percent, including a 45 percent jump in Ram pickup sales.

At Ford, sales rose just 9 percent overall, but sales of SUVs rose 35 percent and pickup sales climbed 15 percent.

The price of regular gasoline in September dropped nearly 30 cents per gallon from the peak this year of $3.90 in May.

Promotions were especially helpful to vehicle sales in September, according to Jeff Schuster, executive director of global forecasting for J.D. Power and Associates. GM, for example, was offering zero-percent financing and $1,000 cash on the 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 pickup. Sales of the Silverado, one of America's best-selling vehicles, rose 36 percent.

Small businesses also needed to buy new trucks.

"There remains an older fleet of commercial-use trucks with small and medium contractors, so some of those could be coming back into the market to take advantage of the current conditions," Schuster said.

Analysts worry the sales jump will be short-lived because other potential buyers of new cars and trucks are worried about the economy longer term. Edmunds.com last week reduced its full-year sales forecast from 12.9 million vehicles to 12.6 million vehicles.

But Don Johnson, GM's vice president of U.S. sales, said pent-up demand was fueling a lot of the industrywide increase, and he expects a steady rise through the end of the year. GM stuck with its forecast for the year of around 13 million vehicle sales.

Based on showroom traffic and internal forecasts, Johnson said GM doesn't expect a double-dip recession, adding that consumer confidence rose in September. Retail sales and industrial production were also encouraging.

The Labor Day holiday likely gave sales a boost. So did Hurricane Irene, by delaying some sales from August until September.

Sales of the Chevrolet Cruze compact, while still strong at just over 18,000, fell below 20,000 last month for the first time since March. The Cruze was the top-selling passenger car in the U.S. earlier in the summer.

Its prime competitors, the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, continued to struggle. Corolla sales were down 23 percent, while Civic sales were off 26 percent. But Johnson blamed the Cruze sales dip on seasonal patterns.

The Cruze benefited since the March earthquake because Honda and Toyota were forced to cut production due to parts shortages caused by the March earthquake.

Other automakers reporting sales Monday included:

Nissan Motor Co., with sales up almost 29 percent. The company's cars led the way with sales of the Altima midsize sedan, Sentra compact, Versa subcompact and Maxima large sedan up a combined 32 percent for the month.

AP Auto Writer Bree Fowler contributed from New York.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 57 280 1,209
MORTGAGES 55 244 916
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 8 52 151
BUILDING PERMITS 158 699 2,751
BANKRUPTCIES 37 157 618
BUSINESS LICENSES 12 77 276
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0