By Jeff Gilbert

DETROIT — (WWJ) Car and truck sales remain a bright spot in a weak recovery, jumping 13 percent in September. The seasonally adjusted annual sales rate hit 14.9 million. That’s the best showing since March of 2008.

“What we are seeing is all this pent up demand that build up through the recession, when people couldn’t buy cars, they just didn’t know their employment status, they couldn’t get credit,” said analyst Michelle Krebs. “Now, they are back in the market.“

INTERVIEW: Michelle Krebs of

And, for the most part, those customers are paying close to full sticker price.

“This is the market recovering on its own,” says analyst Jesse Toprak. It shows the strength of the marketplace. The fact that we are here now with no crazy incentive spending. Incentive spending is actually down.“

INTERVIEW: Jesse Toprak,

But, when you look at individual brands, there are wide swings. Toyota posted a 41.5 percent sales increase over September of 2011. Honda sales were up 31 percent. GM sales were up 1.5 percent. Ford was flat.

But, analyst Jeff Schuster with LMC Automotive says you have to look back at 2011 to completely understand these numbers.

“Toyota and Honda had inventory issues last year,” he said. “We didn’t have that issue with the Detroit brands.“

INTERVIEW: Jeff Schuster, LMC Automotive

Chrysler again lead the domestic brands with a 12 percent sales increase. It’s Fiat brand had its best sales to date, and the new Dodge Dart compact car is off to a good start.

Small cars were also a bright point at General Motors. It was a strong month for Chevy’s subcompact Sonic and Spark.

“We definitely saw a spike in fuel prices early in the month,” said Kurt McNeil, GM sales operations manager. “That always has an impact on the industry.”

In addition to pent up demand, and easier credit, sales were helped by the abundance of all new products. Ford’s all new Escape small SUV had its best month ever.

“Approximately 50 percent of our Escape sales are coming from people trading in non-Ford vehicles,” said Ford sales Vice President Ken Czubay. “ Incredible conquest rates, with high series Escapes—that would be the SEL and Titanium– now accounting for nearly 60 percent of sales.”

Even though Honda and Toyota sales saw big jumps, Nissan sales fell 1.1 percent. Nissan, however, had fairly strong sales last year, because it’s inventories weren’t hurt as much by the earthquake and tsunami.

With three-quarters of the year now over, sales have been relatively stable all year, showing a steady growth from 2011. Analysts expect that to continue through the final quarter.

“We’re in a positive state,” said LMC Automotive’s Jeff Schuster. “We see buyers coming back into the showrooms. We see overall volume setting up for the fourth quarter nicely.”

Connect with Jeff Gilbert
Twitter: @jefferygilbert


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