DETROIT – Sales of sport utility vehicles took a dive in September, dragging down U.S. automakers who were already expecting payback after a summer of employee-pricing discounts. Asian brands, which didn't offer employee discounts, felt less pain.
Several automakers reported strong car sales Monday, but SUVs took a hit industrywide in the U.S. market as gas prices skyrocketed following Hurricane Katrina (search). The Buick Rainier, Ford Explorer, Ford Expedition, Toyota Sequoia and Nissan Armada all saw their sales fall by 18 percent or more.
General Motors Corp. (GM) sales were down 24 percent overall, and its SUV and truck sales fell 30 percent. GM said it knew September would be a challenge after a summer of heavily promoted discounting. GM began letting consumers pay the employee price in June and ended the promotion Friday.
"We're coming off the three strongest months in the history of the industry," said Paul Ballew, GM's executive director of market and industry analysis.
Ballew cautioned that gas prices aren't the only reason for falling SUV sales. He pointed out that truck sales remained strong in September. Ballew said an aging lineup of SUVs and more car-based crossover options also are affecting SUVs. GM's overall sales were flat for the first nine months of the year.
Ford Motor Co. (F) also took a hit, with sales down nearly 20 percent in September. Sales of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury cars were up 6 percent, but sales of trucks and SUVs fell nearly 28 percent. The company's overall sales were also flat for the first nine months of the year.
Ford officials attributed the declines to the strong summer. Ford began allowing customers to pay the employee price in July, and the incentive helped deplete the automaker's 2005 inventory. George Pipas, Ford's U.S. sales analysis manager, said the company expects SUV sales to stay soft in the near term.
Asian automakers also saw weak SUV sales, but none of the payback that U.S. automakers had to contend with. Toyota Motor Corp.'s (search) sales were up 10 percent in September, thanks to a 22 percent increase in car sales. Toyota's truck sales fell 4 percent. The automaker's sales were up 11 percent in the first nine months of the year.
Nissan Motor Co. (search) said its sales were up 16.4 percent in September, led by a 26.5 percent increase in car sales. While sales of the Armada, its largest SUV, were down, sales of the midsize Pathfinder more than doubled, which helped lift Nissan's truck sales by 3 percent.
There were 25 selling days in September 2005, the same number as September 2004.
Ford shares rose 1 cent to $9.87 and DaimlerChrysler (DCX) shares gained 38 cents to $53.50 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange. GM shares rose 48 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $31.09 on the NYSE.