By Jeff Gilbert

DETROIT (WWJ) –Two of the three domestic carmakers posted sales increases in a month that will likely see the entire auto industry down five percent.

“Because this was expected, this doesn’t really change the trend or change the momentum that we’ve had over the summer months,” said analyst Jeff Schuster with LMC Automotive.

September sales were impacted by an early Labor Day weekend, and the fewest number of selling days in four years.  But, still, Ford was able to post a six percent sales increase.

“We’re seeing really strong full size pickup truck  sales, but also on cars,” said Ford’s director of industry analysis Erich Merkle.  “Our new Fiesta’s coming out of the gate strong.  We’re also pleased to see the momentum that fusion’s producing, especially as we head into the fourth quarter.”

That included a 29 percent sales increase for the small Fiesta, and a 62 percent increase for the Fusion mid-size car.  Ford’s F-series pickup truck saw its fifth consecutive month of more than sixty thousand sales.

Chrysler meanwhile, saw it’s sales edge up one percent, keeping an important streak alive.

“Even though industry sales dipped during September, Chrysler Group still managed to eke out a slight sales increase for the month,” said Reid Bigland, Head of U.S. Sales. “Our dealers had two less selling days in September compared with a year ago, but they still outperformed the industry and extended our sales streak to 42-consecutive months of year-over-year sales gains.”

Also impacting September sales, an early Labor Day weekend, which pushed up to a hundred thousand sales forward into August.

The Ram brand lead the way with an 8 percent sales increase. It was also a good month for the new Jeep Grand Cherokee.

General Motors, meanwhile, posted an 11 percent sales drop.   Sales Operations Manager Kurt McNeil says they definitely saw sales shifted ahead into August.

“If you take a look at the two month period, our retail sales were up nine percent.  We gained two tenths of a point in retail share.” senior analyst Jessica Caldwell says nobody should be alarmed by GM’s sales drop.

“September may have shown a decrease from last year’s strong September but there are silver linings in this story. Chevrolet dealers saw their first shipments of the highly anticipated Corvette Stingray and inventory is growing for the new 2014 trucks. GM is certainly giving consumers diverse reasons to check out its current offerings.”

However, Caldwell says the 12 percent sales decrease at Volkswagen is part of a trend we’ve seen all year.

“VW has fallen short of the industry in terms of sales growth this year. The company is struggling with phased out vehicles and finding volume in segments in which they are overshadowed by more recognizable nameplates. Incentive spending, while down from last month’s aggressive spend, is still more than double what it was last September.”

Nissan and Toyota have been growing all year, until September.  They both saw September sales off about five per cent.

“September was a solid month for the auto industry despite two fewer selling days,” said Bill Fay, Toyota Division group vice president and general manager. “Industry fundamentals are strong as interest rates stay low and consumers remain confident.”

Kelly Blue Book Analyst Alec Gutierrez says September should be seen as an exception, in a year that’s seen slow steady growth.

“Even though September’s a little bit slower than we’ve seen over the last several months, average out over the last several months and you still end up with one of the best summers, likely the best summer that we’ve seen since prior to the recession.”

While analysts expect the year to end on a strong month, there is worry about the impact of the government shutdown.  Still, GM’s Kurt McNeil is not concerned.

“We’re confident that’s going to be a short term situation, and that our political officials are going to do the right thing.”

And even if the government shut down drags on, the impact on car sales is expected to be minimal.

“The American people might be questioning their faith in government right now, but they still have confidence in the economy,” says chief economist Lacy Plache.  “In fact, American car buyers have been remarkably resilient in the face of the Congress’ antics over past year. There’s no reason to believe that auto sales will suffer in the coming days or weeks as this mess gets sorted out in Washington.”

Connect with Jeff Gilbert
Twitter: @jefferygilbert

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