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Automakers report mixed US sales results in September

DETROIT – Automakers reported mixed U.S. sales results in September as demand for new cars and trucks sputtered.

Nissan’s sales rose 4.9 per cent over last September and Toyota’s were up 1.5 per cent. General Motors’ and Honda’s sales were flat, Fiat Chrysler’s fell 1 per cent and Ford and Volkswagen both reported 8-per cent declines.

Other automakers are releasing September sales figures later Monday.

Overall U.S. auto sales were expected to fall 1 per cent to 1.4 million in September, the fourth month of declining sales this year, according to a joint forecast by J.D. Power and LMC Automotive.

That’s not necessarily bad news. Sales remain near historic highs, and some analysts suggest 2016 sales could even top the record of 17.5 million set last year. Favourable conditions such as low interest rates and low gas prices remain in place. Consumer confidence hit a nine-year high in September, according to the Conference Board’s index.

But after six straight years of growth, demand is clearly slowing. U.S. sales were up less than 1 per cent through August, and a decline in September could push the year’s totals into negative territory.

New cars also are feeling pressure from used cars because of the growing popularity of leasing. More than 30 per cent of new vehicles are now leased, up from 20 per cent five years ago. Around 500,000 off-lease vehicles are returning to the used car market this year and next year, and many consumers will choose them instead of new vehicles, says Alec Gutierrez, a senior market analyst with Kelley Blue Book.

That has automakers pushing harder for sales. Incentive spending hit a record of $3,923 per vehicle last month, surpassing the previous high set in December 2008 during the recession.

BMW was offering $6,732 in incentives per vehicle in September, up 44 per cent from a year ago, according to TrueCar.com. Fiat Chrysler spent $4,302 per vehicle on deals, up 23 per cent. Buyers could get $4,500 cash back on a 2016 Ford Escape or $2,000 on a 2017 Chevrolet Malibu.

Mark LaNeve, Ford’s U.S. sales chief, said incentive spending was $430 per vehicle higher than last September. Usually, he said, incentives are only about $100 higher or lower than the year before.

“The business is as competitive as I’ve seen in my 32 years,” said Mark LaNeve, Ford’s U.S. sales chief, in a conference call Monday with analysts and media. “Everybody’s trying to protect their share and, in spots, grow it.”

Automakers said:

— General Motors Co.’s sales fell less than 1 per cent to 249,795. Buick sales jumped 14 per cent thanks to strong sales of the new Envision small SUV and Cadillac sales were up 3 per cent as the new XT5 SUV and CT6 sedan hit the market. But Chevrolet sales were flat and GMC sales fell 9 per cent.

— Ford Motor Co.’s sales fell 8 per cent to 204,447. The company said a planned 36-per cent cut in sales to low-profit rental car companies was partly to blame. Ford’s car sales plummeted 21 per cent compared to last September, led by a 39.5 per cent decline for the subcompact Fiesta. F-Series truck sales also fell 3 per cent as Ford prepared to launch its new Super Duty trucks. Luxury Lincoln sales were up 1 per cent.

— Toyota Motor Co.’s sales rose 1.5 per cent to 197,260. The company’s car sales were down 9 per cent; sales of the hybrid Prius fell 23 per cent, a victim of low gas prices. But SUV and truck sales were up 13 per cent.

— Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said its sales fell 1 per cent to 192,883. Ram sales jumped 29 per cent on strong sales of the Ram pickup and ProMaster van, but sales were down for the Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Fiat and Alfa brands.

— Honda Motor Co.’s sales fell less than 1 per cent to 133,655. Sales of Honda’s new small SUV, the HR-V, were up 49 per cent over last year, when it was just hitting the market, but the company’s car sales fell 8 per cent. Luxury Acura sales were down 13 per cent.

— Nissan Motor Co.’s sales rose 5 per cent to 127,797. SUV and truck sales jumped 19 per cent; sales of the Rogue small SUV rose 6 per cent to more than 26,000, a September record. Luxury Infiniti sales were up 12 per cent.

— Volkswagen brand sales dropped 8 per cent to 24,112. Volkswagen said Tiguan small SUV sales rose slightly but the rest of its vehicles were down as the company continues to struggle with a year-old diesel engine scandal.