DETROIT – Automakers weren't as generous with consumer incentives in October as they were in September, but shoppers can expect a new round of deals as manufacturers, particularly General Motors Corp. (GM) and Ford Motor Co. (F), try to end the year with a flurry, analysts say.
Industrywide, incentives averaged $2,781 per vehicle in October, down 11 percent from the $3,120 average in the previous month, according to research firm Autodata Corp (search). Detroit's Big Three automakers far outspent their Asian rivals — $3,730 vs. $1,347 — but continued to lose market share to the foreign brands.
Overall new car and truck sales were off 7 percent in October from a surprisingly strong September, but were up 2 percent from a year ago. October's results topped most forecasts, which anticipated a huge falloff following September's heavy, incentive-induced demand.
Observers say part of the reason for the decline in incentives last month was the arrival en masse of 2005 models, which generally carry smaller discounts.
At GM, the world's largest automaker, the average incentive outlay last month was $4,051, the highest of any major automaker but $289 less than September. The company said Wednesday its October sales were off 5 percent from a year ago and its U.S. market share was 25.4 percent, down from 27.3 percent in October 2003, according to Autodata.
"GM will likely strive for market-share targets at year-end, which we believe will translate into even more deals, most likely in December," Merrill Lynch analyst John Casesa said in a research report.
Ford fared a little better in October, as its market share for the month was 18.7 percent, better than its 18.4 percent year-to-date rate. Like GM, sales at the nation's No. 2 automaker fell 5 percent, dragged down again by poor car sales.
Casesa said that side of Ford's business should begin to improve with the recent debut of several new models, including a new high-profile sedan. Ford's average outlay on incentives per vehicle last month was $3,425, down from $3,808 in September.
"Ford's car sales have likely bottomed out and should recover following the September launch of the new flagship Five Hundred, which replaces the aging Taurus," Casesa said.
The smallest of Detroit's Big Three, DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group (DCX), said overall sales rose 2 percent in October — the 12th time in 13 months it has had a year-over-year increase. Chrysler spent an average of $3,539 per vehicle on incentives last month, $89 less than September, Autodata said.
The American arms of Toyota Motor Corp. (search) and Honda Motor Co. (search) , the top Japanese automakers, each spent less than $700 on average in incentives last month — $624 for Toyota and $698 at Honda.
Yet Toyota and Honda, along with Japanese counterpart Nissan Motor Co. (search) , grabbed 35.9 percent of the U.S. market in October, up from 32.4 percent a year ago, according to Autodata. Meantime, the Big Three's share slipped to 56.8 percent from 60.2 percent in October 2003.
Some of the gain came from sales of pickups. Toyota and Nissan combined for a 9.3 percent share of the full-size pickup market in October, up from 3.6 percent a year ago — before Nissan's launch of its Titan pickup, Casesa said.
Despite rising fuel prices, light truck sales — pickups, sport utility vehicles and vans — rose 2.6 percent last month from a year ago.
"The Big Three still account for about 73 percent of total light truck sales," Casesa noted, "but their market share is declining as Japanese and Korean (manufacturers) increase their light truck offerings."
GM shares rose 30 cents to close at $39.80, Ford rose 3 cents to close at $13.81 and DaimlerChrysler's U.S. shares rose 26 cents to close at $42.91 Friday on the New York Stock Exchange. GM shares have been rising from a 52-week low of $36.90 in late October, while Ford and DaimlerChrysler have been trading near the middle of their 52-week ranges.