It's the tail end of summer, but the car industry hasn't lost its heat just yet - numbers are trending upward for most manufacturers, and economic indicators are looking good.
The largest volume car makers, including General Motors (NYSE:GM), Ford (NYSE:F), Toyota (NYSE:TM) and Chrysler, are all seeing strong sales gains, most reporting their best sales months in five years.
Some highlights of August's sales report: Toyota gained 18.4 percent, GM climbed 14.7 percent and Ford rose 12.7 percent.
Economic environment still favorable
Low interest rates encourage buying by reducing the cost of the debt used to purchase a car. As Kelley Blue Book's Karl Brauer told The Car Connection last month, "(Rates) have finally moved up, but are still at near-historic lows. The upswing is so recent we haven't yet seen the real impact."
Transaction prices have risen 0.7 percent year-on-year, but fallen 0.4 percent month-to-month, now at an industry average of $31,657, according to Kelley Blue Book. Brauer noted that the gains aren't uniform, however. "Consumers are spending top dollar for some of the latest and greatest models, while other brands are forced to cut prices in order to move vehicles off dealership lots," said Brauer.
Those rates have continued their slight climb in August, but the effect, if any, is still small, as sales numbers are up across the board. The national average rate for a 60-month new car loan is now 2.53 percent according to Bankrate.com. Average mortgage rates are up to 4.54 percent for a 30-year fixed, a slight rise from last month.
Last month saw the auto industry make more sales than it had since the 2007-2008 industry depression. For August, the trend looks to extend July's rise, with General Motors, Ford, Toyota and Chrysler all reporting their best months since the industry collapse.
Will the industry continue picking up pace, or is the apparent return to pre-crash sales levels just a low-rate-fueled blip? For August at least, the numbers are in and the tally speaks for itself:
General Motors: GM sold a total of 275,847 cars in August, a gain of 14.7 percent compared to last year, seeing double-digit rises across all of its brands. Cadillac led the way with a 37.8-percent climb to 20,255 vehicles delivered. Buick was close behind at 36.9-percent gain year-on-year and 24,650 vehicles delivered. GMC grew 14.2 percent compared to August 2012, selling a total of 43,202 vehicles. Chevrolet rose 10.4 percent to 187,740. For August, 19.9 percent of GM's total sales went to fleet customers, a drop of 4.9 percent against 2012. Year-to-date, GM is up 9.8 percent against 2012 on total sales of 1,930,264.
Ford: Ford saw its highest monthly sales since August, 2006, rising 20 percent in retail sales and 12 percent overall to a total of 221,270 vehicles across its Ford and Lincoln brands. Trucks led the gains, up 18.4 percent against August 2012, while cars rose 17.5 percent, and SUVs fell 0.2 percent. Lincoln sold 8,192 vehicles in August, a gain of 0.6 percent. Ford's F-Series pickups sales rose a whopping 22.2 percent to 71,115 units sold in August. The Fiesta subcompact continues its strong percentage rise, up 61.5 percent to 6,744 vehicles sold. Ford's only sales declines in August came from the Mustang (down 8.2 percent), the Escape (down 5.2 percent), the Edge (down 0.6 percent), the Expedition (down 1.3 percent) and the E-Series vans (down 5.7 percent).
Toyota/Lexus/Scion: Toyota reported total sales of 231,537 vehicles in August, a daily sales-rate rise of 18.4 percent against August 2012, and a raw volume increase of 22.8 percent. Toyota's division group vice president and general manager, Bill Fay, said, "The auto industry continues to be a bright spot in the economic recovery. August capped a great summer for new vehicle sales, and it was Toyota's best month in more than five years."
Chrysler: Chrysler Group LLC posted its best sales since 2007 this month, marking the company's 41st consecutive month of year-on-year gains. Total gains of 12 percent brought the group sales tally to 165,552 units. The Dodge brand accounted for 52,858 of those sales, Jeep followed with 46,239, Ram Trucks sold 33,587 vehicles, the Chrysler brand moved 28,678 units, and Fiat accounted for 4,190. Of the group's brands, Ram saw the biggest gain, up 29 percent against August 2012. Dodge rose 12 percent, Jeep was up 8 percent, Chrysler gained 2 percent, and Fiat was up 1 percent. The Dodge Durango saw the largest percentage gain (117 percent), while the Ram pickup, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Wrangler, Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan were the top five volume models for Chrysler.
Nissan/Infiniti: Nissan's (OTCPK:NSANY) total sales of 120,498 vehicles amounted to a 22.3 percent gain, a new record for August. The Nissan brand sold 108,614 of those vehicles, a 24.3 percent gain. Infiniti sales of 11,884 rose 6.5 percent compared to August 2012. The Nissan LEAF saw its best sales month since its launch, moving 2,420 electric cars, a gain of 253.3 percent. The Altima rose 19.7 percent to 30,976, Sentra sales grew 18.7 percent to 12,605, Pathfinder sold 8,859 examples, up 258.4 percent, Rogue gained 36.8 percent for 17,273 units sold. Infiniti's best sellers include the QX60, up 27.2 percent to 3,026 vehicles sold, the new Q50 sedan, selling 2,434 units, and the QX80, up 19.4 percent to 1,225 units.
Honda/Acura: American Honda Motor Co. (NYSE:HMC) posted record August results with a total of 166,432 vehicles sold, a 26.7 percent rise against last August. Acura sales accounted for 17,051 of that total. Leading models for the Honda brand were the CR-V, setting a new all-time sales record with a 45.1 percent gain to 34,654 units, and the Accord and Civic, both topping 38,000 units. The Odyssey and Crosstour were the only Honda models to decrease in sales, 16.3 percent and 21.0 percent, respectively. Acura's best-seller was the MDX, moving 6,499 units, a 12.9 percent increase over August 2012. Acura's biggest loser was the TL, down 32.9 percent to 2,227 units.
Audi: Audi USA reported a rise of 21.5 percent against August 2012, a total of 14,005 vehicles sold. August marks the 32nd consecutive month of record sales, and a year-to-date rise of 14.7 percent against 2012. Highlights among Audi's August sales include: TDI diesels accounted for 25.6 percent of Q7 sales and 18.4 percent of A8 sales; the R8 rose 65.2 percent for the month for 76 units sold; the A6 climbed 34.5 percent to 2,110 units sold.
BMW/MINI: The BMW Group's U.S. operations sold a total of 30,546 vehicles, a 35.4 percent rise from August 2012. MINI accounted for 6,023 of those units, a 5.3 percent gain and the best August on record for MINI in the U.S. The BMW brand's sales of 24,523 represent a 45.7 percent rise from last year, and year-to-date, the brand is up 14.8 percent to 188,997 vehicles sold.
Mercedes-Benz: Mercedes-Benz USA reported August sales of 27,144 vehicles, up 15.8 percent against August 2012. The Mercedes-Benz brand sold 24,761 vehicles of the total figure, a 20.5 percent gain. Year-to-date, the Mercedes-Benz brand is up 13 percent at 190,359 vehicles sold. The Smart brand sold 993 vehicles, a 31.9 percent year-on-year rise, while the Sprinter Vans division sold 1,390, a decrease of 34.7 percent. Mercedes' top seller was the C Class, moving 6,701 units. The E Class followed closely at 6,523 vehicles sold in August.
Porsche: Porsche Cars North America (OTCPK:POAHY) sold 3,327 vehicles in August, a 10 percent gain year-on-year. Year-to-date, the brand is up 28 percent against 2012. Porsche's sales leader was the Cayenne, at 1,435 units, followed by the 911 at 769, the Boxster/Cayman family at 669, and the Panamera at 454.
Volvo: Volvo Cars of North America (OTCPK:VOLVY) is the one brand to seriously buck the upward industry trend, declining 12.7 percent month-on-month against July and 5.7 percent year-on-year. Total sales for August were 5,518 vehicles, with the S60 accounting for 1,962 and the XC60 selling 1,793 units.
Subaru: Subaru's American arm sold 41,061 vehicles in August, a 45.1 percent increase from August 2012. Year-to-date, the brand is up 29.3 percent to a total of 281,652 sales. The Forester saw its best-ever sales month, moving 13,163 units, while the Impreza and BRZ also set August records, at 6,784 and 868 units, respectively. The BRZ is up 39.3 percent over August 2012, while the Impreza climbed 43.8 percent. Subaru's only decrease in sales came from the Tribeca, down 12.7 percent to 137 vehicles sold.
Mitsubishi: Mitsubishi Motors North America reported total sales of 5,281 vehicles, a gain of 24.3 percent from August 2012. The Outlander Sport moved the most volume, at 2,171 units, a 59 percent rise year-on-year.
Volkswagen: A total of 40,342 vehicles delivered in August puts Volkswagen (OTCPK:VLKAY) at a 1.6 percent decrease versus August 2012, despite the best August and year-to-date for Passat (up 3 percent), delivery of 13,508 Jetta Sedans (a 5.4 percent increase), and an overall diesel mix of 30.4 percent. The Beetle rose 42.6 percent against 2012 to 4,921 units sold in August. The Golf and its GTI and Golf R variants were among the big losers at Volkswagen, down a combined 29.5 percent.
Jaguar/Land Rover: Jaguar Land Rover North America published total sales of 6,661 vehicles, a 40 percent increase against last year. Jaguar accounted for 1,723 of those sales, Land Rover the remaining 4,938. Year-to-date, the company is up 18 percent total.
Kia: Kia Motors America (KMTIF.PK) reported total sales of 52,025 vehicles, a 4 percent increase compared to August 2012. The brand's top seller was the Optima, at 15,199 units, followed by the Sorento at 10,568 and the Soul at 10,017. The all-new Cadenza sold 1,677 units, its second consecutive month over 1,500 units.
Hyundai: Hyundai Motor America (OTC:HYMLY) sold 66,101 vehicles in August, a gain of 8 percent versus August 2012. Top sellers were the Elantra (24,700 units), Sonata (16,917 units) and Santa Fe (8,102 units). Those three models are the brand's U.S.-built cadre, and together they recorded an 18 percent gain over last year.