U.S. light-vehicle sales, propelled by Labor Day promotions, fatter deals throughout the month, low gasoline prices and higher light-truck demand, rose 16 percent in September on double-digit gains at the Detroit 3, Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Group and Honda Motor Co.
The seasonally-adjusted annual sales rate surged to 18.17 million, easily topping the 17.7 million forecast, helping the industry record its strongest performance since July 2005, when Detroit’s struggling automakers offered employee discounts to all customers in an effort to juice sales.
Light trucks set the pace, rising 24 percent last month, while car deliveries edged up 6.3 percent.
“It was good from beginning to end — one of those really special, strong months,” said Mark LaNeve, Ford Motor Co.’s head of U.S. marketing, sales and service.
Ford Motor Co.’s 23 percent advance marked its biggest increase in nearly five years, with deliveries rising 23 percent at the Ford brand and 20 percent at Lincoln. Ford’s truck sales jumped 23 percent.
Volume at Fiat Chrysler rose 14 percent as the automaker rode its surging Jeep brand to a 66th consecutive monthly sales gain. GM deliveries advanced 13 percent, with all four of its brands increasing for the first time in a year.
At Nissan Group, sales jumped 18 percent, bolstered by a 30 percent gain at Infiniti.
GMC last month led the increase at General Motors, with a 24 percent rise. It was followed by Chevrolet (11 percent), Cadillac (7.8 percent) and Buick (5 percent). GM said its retail volume rose 17 percent last month as it continues to reduce shipments to daily rental customers.
At Toyota, September sales rose 16 percent, with deliveries rising 16 percent at the Toyota division and at Lexus.
At FCA US, Jeep deliveries advanced 40 percent last month to 77,201 vehicles. Sales increased 3.8 percent at the Ram brand, 2.6 percent at Dodge and 1.1 percent at Fiat. It was the first gain in monthly volume at Dodge since January. Deliveries slipped 5.3 percent at the Chrysler brand on weaker minivan demand.
The company’s light-truck volume surged 18 percent while car deliveries were flat.
A 27 percent surge in light-truck deliveries helped Honda Motor Co. to a 13 percent gain for the month. Sales rose 14 percent at the Honda brand and 6.3 percent at Acura.
Subaru’s U.S. sales rose 28 percent to a monthly record of 53,070 vehicles. It is the third straight month that Subaru has set a U.S. monthly sales record and keeps the brand on track to achieve its seventh consecutive annual sales record in 2015.
U.S. light-vehicle sales this year have now climbed 5 percent to 13.05 million through September, behind an increase in SUV, crossover, pickup and van deliveries.
Sales at the VW brand rose 0.6 percent last month despite a scandal over diesel emissions that threatens to undermine the company’s U.S. volume in coming months.
Audi, behind a 44 percent surge in crossover volume, said its U.S. sales rose 16 percent to 17,340 vehicles last month, despite a U.S. government probe that has forced the luxury brand to suspend sales of the diesel-powered A3 TDI.
Analysts were divided on how the Sept. 18 revelation that Volkswagen AG has been selling cars rigged to skirt diesel emissions standards will impact the VW and Audi brands.
Analysts say the VW brand, like other automakers, likely benefited from Labor Day weekend, a traditional car-shopping holiday which last year counted in August’s tally. The VW Group also continues to benefit from the strength at Audi, a luxury brand that has now posted 71 consecutive months of year-over-year sales gains.
Mercedes-Benz won the U.S. luxury segment for the month, with sales rising 6.2 percent to 29,020 vehicles, following by BMW, where sales rose 4 percent to 26,608 units.
Lexus, which took the top spot in July and August, finished third with 25,294 deliveries, a 16 percent boost.
All three luxury brands are locked in a tight race year to date. BMW holds the lead with 249,956 deliveries, just ahead of Mercedes at 249,890. Lexus is third with sales of 247,445 vehicles during the nine-month period.
The figures do not include Mercedes Sprinter trucks or BMW’s Mini brand because they are not luxury vehicles.
Audi remains a distant fourth in the race, posting a 16 percent gain in September to 17,340 deliveries. The VW luxury brand has sold 147,403 vehicles in the U.S. so far this year.
Among luxury brands, Land Rover recorded the biggest gain in September with U.S. sales surging 89 percent to 5,855 vehicles. Year-to-date sales for Land Rover have risen 26 percent to 48,403 units.
U.S sales have been buoyed by pent-up demand, a growing economy, job gains and favorable financing options. Lower U.S. gasoline prices are also driving demand higher for light trucks.
Incentives per vehicle were running 10 percent higher in mid-September of this year compared with September 2014, Barclays analyst Brian Johnson said in a report Tuesday.
TrueCar estimates average industry incentives rose 3.9 percent to $3,090 a vehicle last month compared with September 2014.
“Although the industry remains solid, automakers are electing to increase incentives,” said Stacey Doyle, senior industry analyst for TrueCar. “The incentive-to-average transaction price ratio has been at somewhat higher than normative levels for three consecutive months.