U.S. auto sales increased 10 percent in October as the Detroit 3 gained market share while other major automakers fell short of projections.
The industry’s seasonally-adjusted annualized selling rate (SAAR) declined from September’s sluggish figure, to 15.2 million. Executives and analysts said the closure of federal offices during the U.S. government shutdown curbed traffic in the first half of October before rebounding.
“The first two weeks of October were some of the slower weeks of the year,” said Alec Gutierrez, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book. “As the government shutdown wrapped up, the last couple of weeks were quite strong, so the overall effect was that there really was no effect.”
With October in the books, industry sales remain up 8 percent for the year.
General Motors led the Detroit automakers with a 16 percent gain, after losing share in August and September. Sales increased 14 percent for Ford Motor Co. and 11 percent for Chrysler Group.
Nissan North America and Hyundai Motor America each set October records, while Volkswagen Group of America logged its biggest decline of the year. Volkswagen, Kia, Volvo and Mini were among the few brands that posted lower sales year-over-year.
Sales jumped 52 percent for Jaguar-Land Rover, 38 percent for the Lincoln brand and 32 percent for Subaru. All four of GM’s brands achieved double-digit gains, including a 31 percent increase for Buick.
SUVs, crossovers and pickups accounted for the bulk of the industry’s increases as gasoline prices declined throughout the month.
Mercedes-Benz said sales surged 37 percent in October, outselling the BMW brand by 2,460 vehicles. With two months to go in the year, Mercedes now leads BMW by nearly 5,000 units in the hotly contested luxury-car race, excluding Sprinter van sales.
That lead is roughly equal to the number of CLA sedans sold last month by Mercedes. Sales rose 75 percent for the S class and 23 percent for the E class.
At BMW, sales of the 3, 5 and 6 series each increased about 20 percent, and X6 deliveries rose 60 percent. Total sales by the brand increased 4 percent.
American Honda said its sales rose 7 percent, as demand for its two biggest nameplates went in opposite directions.
Sales of the Accord fell 11 percent to 25,089, while the Civic became the company’s top seller. The Civic had its best October since 2001, with sales up 32 percent to 27,328.
Honda division sales increased 6 percent. Acura division sales rose 18 percent, aided by a 49 percent jump for the MDX crossover.
Toyota sold 168,976 units in October, up 9 percent. Sales rose 8 percent for the Toyota division and 15 percent for Lexus, the automaker said.
SUVs and other light trucks led the way for Toyota, with a 17 percent increase. Sales of Toyota’s car models rose just 3 percent.
The Camry, Prius, Yaris and four of Scion’s five nameplates each posted declines, but sales of the Avalon more than tripled, and RAV4 deliveries rose 61 percent.
The newly redesigned Corolla logged a 13 percent gain. On the year, Toyota sales are now up 8 percent, to 1,867,155. That is about 10 percent less than Ford’s year-to-date sales of 2,085,411 units.
Toyota’s incentives were 8 percent higher last month than in October 2012, according to Edmunds.com. That was the second-largest increase among major automakers, behind a 14 percent rise for Ford.
For the fifth consecutive year, Subaru has set a new annual sales record — and this time, it did so with more than two months to spare.
With a 32 percent increase in October, the company’s year-to-date sales totaled 347,890, 28 percent more than in the first 10 months of 2012. That means it needed only about 294 days to beat last year’s 12-month total of 336,441.
So far in 2013, Subaru has outsold the Volkswagen brand by nearly 5,000 vehicles. The Volkswagen brand posted an 18 percent decline for October.
Sales of the Subaru Forester increased 137 percent to 12,581, accounting for more than one of every three vehicles the company sold.
Nissan said higher demand for its SUVs and crossovers pushed sales up 14 percent to 91,018 vehicles, an October record for the automaker.
Deliveries rose 15 percent for the Nissan division and 5 percent for Infiniti.
Light-truck sales increased 43 percent, versus a 2 percent gain for cars. Sales of the Rogue crossover rose 53 percent as the company sold down 2013 models in preparation for a redesigned, U.S.-built version being introduced this month.
Nissan sold 90 percent more Pathfinder SUVs and 72 percent more Frontier pickups, but sales of its Altima mid-sized sedan fell 12 percent.
At Infiniti, the new Q50 offset declines for six of the brand’s seven carryover models.
Sales of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra rose 11 percent from a year ago. GM said the redesigned versions of the trucks accounted for 76 percent of its light-duty pickup sales and that sales of the 2014 models increased 62 percent from September.
GM’s retail sales increased 16 percent, while fleet sales were up 14 percent. Retail sales of Chevrolet cars rose 32 percent, as retail deliveries of the Impala nearly doubled and Malibu retail sales jumped 58 percent. Total sales rose 40 percent for the Impala and 64 percent for the Malibu.
Even though the SAAR came in lower, the numbers look much better than September, when sales fell 4 percent year-over-year. That dip, blamed in part on the fact that an earlier-than-usual Labor Day meant sales during the long weekend counted toward August, broke a 27-month streak of gains dating to March 2010.
Average transaction prices for the industry rose 1 percent from a year ago to a record of $30,798 in October, analysts at TrueCar.com said. Five automakers — Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Volkswagen — achieved all-time highs, with GM up 7 percent from October 2012.
Incentives rose 4 percent from a year ago, TrueCar said. Ford increased its incentives by 24 percent, to an average of $3,086 per vehicle, the most among the eight largest automakers. Hyundai-Kia Automotive upped incentives by 28 percent, to an average of $1,760.
“Expect to see incentives to jump in the fourth quarter — competition for market share will be fierce,” Jesse Toprak, senior analyst for TrueCar, said in a statement. “Average transaction prices continue to hover around record levels thanks to the consumers’ demand for vehicles loaded up with options.”
The partial government shutdown, which lasted from Oct. 1 through Oct. 16 as congressional leaders deadlocked over how to address the nation’s debt ceiling, eroded some consumer confidence early in the month.
“You can’t have such a dramatic event that affects all of the government employees and all of the folks who do business with government and not have it affect business,” said Kevin Farrish, president of Farrish of Fairfax, which operates a Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram dealership and a Subaru store in suburban Washington. “Since things got back to business as usual, we saw a spike in sales. Whatever we lost, I think we made it up.”
The shutdown affected dealers far from Washington as well, simply by injecting more uncertainty into the economy.