Business / Corporate

U.S. auto sales took a big step back in September, with Nissan hit the hardest

Bloomberg

U.S. auto sales took a big step back in September, setting the stage for hefty incentive spending by carmakers struggling to clear old models from dealers’ inventory.

Deliveries of cars and light trucks may have slumped in September by about 12 percent, the average of six analysts’ estimates. Nissan Motor Co.’s big drop led declines among the major companies reporting Tuesday, as the carmaker continues to struggle in the post-Carlos Ghosn era.

The sales slowdown has the potential to put auto dealers already struggling with shrinking profit margins in an even more precarious position. With outgoing model-year vehicles clogging up their lots, automakers had to pony up record incentive spending of more than $4,100 a vehicle in the third quarter, according to researchers at J.D. Power and LMC Automotive.

Detroit’s major auto manufacturers have stopped publicly reporting monthly numbers, though General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. have scheduled the release of quarterly figures Wednesday.

One of the big takeaways in the latest results is the fact that Subaru’s incredible run ended.

It nearly lasted the length of a two-term U.S. presidency, but Subaru Corp.’s streak of monthly sales increases is over.

The carmaker’s run ended in September after 93 months. Deliveries dropped 9.4 percent, with Tom Doll, chief executive officer of Subaru’s U.S. sales division, citing a rapid sell-down of older-generation Legacy sedans and Outback crossovers.

Honda Motor Co. had a rough September after logging its best U.S. sales month ever in August. Deliveries declined 14 percent last month, a much worse showing than analysts expected.

Nissan’s deliveries decreased 18 percent, though analysts were expecting an even steeper decline of 21 percent.

Still, the models that drove the decrease give reason to be downbeat. Sales of Nissan brand pickups and sport utility vehicles — which tend to be more lucrative than passenger cars — dropped 21 percent, while deliveries for the Infiniti luxury division fell 44 percent.

Toyota Motor Corp. saw it sales plunge 16 percent in September, with both its namesake and Lexus luxury brands declining by double-digit percentages. Deliveries fell for almost every model, including its best-selling RAV4 crossover and Camry sedan.

While all carmakers are going to struggle with September having been a shorter sales month — the Labor Day holiday weekend applied to August figures this year — Toyota can’t entirely blame the calendar. Even on a daily selling rate basis, total sales were down 9.2 percent.

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