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USA September 2017: First gain this year, SAAR at highest in 12 years

The Chevrolet Equinox (+80%) helps General Motors up 11.9% this month.

* See the Top 15 groups, Top 40 brands and Top 288 models by clicking on the title *

At last! After eight consecutive months of decline, September marks the first positive month of 2017 with a solid 6.3% year-on-year gain to 1.523.867 deliveries. The year-to-date total is now down 1.8% or 233.000 units to 12.874.473, but the September result and the prospect of a strong last quarter pushed in part by replacement of cars damaged by the Harvey and Irma hurricanes in Texas and Florida (estimated at 500.000 to 600.000) has the industry hoping for a third consecutive year above 17 million units. The Seasonally Adjusted Annualised Sales Rate (SAAR) for September 2017 shoots up to an incredible 18.58 million, the highest since the 20.64 million from July 2005 which was boosted by employee-style discounts.

Continuing on a years-long trend, light trucks are up 12.4% to 967.547 sales or 63.5% share, bringing the year-to-date total up 4.4% to 8.019.834 or 62.3% share. Pickups are up 11.6% to 247.864, crossovers up 19.2% to 482.141 and SUVs up 1.1% to 152.633. Year-to-date, pickups are up 4.5% to 2.063.336, crossovers up 8.4% to 3.915.520 and SUVs up 0.7% to 1.319.493. Reversely, cars continue their decline at -3.3% to 556.320 or 36.5% share in September, albeit a much better rate that the 10.5% year-to-date drop to 4.854.639.

Incentives also helped September into positive: according to Edmunds, average new vehicle incentives are up 21% year-on-year to $3.506 while ALG says they are up just 1.5% to $3.742. General Motors, Nissan and FCA are the biggest culprits whereas Subaru, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota are the most frugal (see table below). Factories, lenders and dealers are using spiffs to entice buyers to replace their hurricane damaged vehicle even before the insurance cheque has arrived. Even then, inventories continue to grow, now at an average of 80 days. Also, 2018 models only represent 16% of sales in September as consumers take advantage of more interesting deals on outgoing 2017 models, this according to Edmunds and quoted by Automotive News.

Source: Automotive News 

General Motors hits its best September volume in nine years, up 12% on September 2016 to 279.397 units which is also its largest year-on-year gain since the +16% it delivered in October 2015. GM’s surge is entirely fuelled by light trucks, with crossovers up 39% and trucks/vans/SUVs up 10% but cars down 8%. GM sees its fleet sales grow faster than the rest this month, representing 20.9% of its total, up from 18.2% a year ago. Brand-wise, Chevrolet is up 17.4%, GMC up 9.4%, Cadillac up 1.1% but Buick down 20% the brand’s third double-digit decline in a row, handicapped by a 50% reduction of fleet sales so far in 2017. The Chevrolet Equinox (+80%), Traverse (+51%) and Silverado (+22%) are among GM’s best performers this month, while the Bolt breaks its volume record at 2.632.

Toyota North America posts its third consecutive year-on-year gain at +14.9% to 279.397 units, now in positive year-to-date at +0.5% to 1.83m units. The Toyota brand surges 19.5% with SUV sales up 43% and pickups up 16%, posting its first month above 200.000 units this year, while Lexus is up a timid 1.5% only its second positive result of 2017. September marks the first fill month of sales for the new generation Camry, resulting in a 13% uptick but losing the best-selling car spot to the Honda Civic. The RAV4 soars 44% to lodge its third consecutive month above 40.000 units, a first for the nameplate.

Ford Motor is up a more modest but still market-beating 8.9%, fuelled by very strong fleet sales up 25% while retail sales edge up 4.4%. Ford says a third of its year-on-year gain of 18.000 comes from replacement of cars affected by the Harvey and Irma hurricanes. Almost all of Ford gains this month are due to the stellar performance of the F-Series up 21% to its largest monthly volume of 2017. Accordingly, Ford’s pickup and van sales are up 21% while crossovers and SUVs are up just 1.% and cars down 1.3%.

The Jeep Compass (+75%) is one of only a few bright spots for FCA in September.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles posts its 13th consecutive year-on-year decline at -9.7% with retail sales up 0.3% but fleet sales down an abysmal 16%. Jeep is down 3.8% despite Renegade sales up 38%, the Grand Cherokee up 20%, the Wrangler up 10% and a record September volume for the Compass, up 75% to 11.356 now that the new generation is here. It’s the Cherokee (-29%) and Patriot (-84%) that pull the brand to a 13th negative month in a row. Ram is down 0.3% with the Pickup down 1% but back to #3 after dropping to #3 in August, Chrysler is down 16% on the discontinuation of the 200 (-78%) and Town & Country (-79%), Fiat is down 24.3% and Dodge down 30.3% with only the Durango (+45%) in positive. Only Alfa Romeo is up (31-fold) with the the Giulia at #188 and the Stelvio gearing up at #228, up 23 spots on last month.

Nissan Motor outpaces the market at +9.9% to 148.362 sales including Mitsubishi. The Nissan brand is up 9.3% with, for once, cars and light trucks performing equally well. The Rogue surges 47% year-on-year and four spots on August to #5 and 38.969 sales, the nameplate’s third highest monthly volume below December 2016 (40.477) and March 2017 (39.512), partly thanks to the arrival of the Rogue Sports (aka Qashqai) whose national advertising kicked off this month. Nissan’s car performance has a lot to do with the exceptional strength of the Sentra (+40%), with the carmaker choosing not to participate in the incentive wars happening in the lower midsize car segment with the Altima, down 34% to #21 this month.

The Toyota RAV4 posts a third consecutive month above 40.000 sales.

American Honda roughly matches the U.S. market growth at +6.8% to 142.722 sales, leaping into positive year-to-date at +0.3% and 1.23m units. The Honda brand posts a record September volume at 129.776 sales, up 7.4% year-on-year thanks mainly to the Civic up 26% to snap the title of best-selling passenger car off the Toyota Camry. The Civic also overtakes the CR-V (-3%), suffering from availability issues, to become Honda’s best-seller year-to-date. The Accord is the third Honda in the national Top 10 (as many as Toyota) with sales up 10% on discounts for the outgoing generation as the new model arrives in October. Hyundai-Kia continues to struggle at -5.5% to 109.475 sales, adding up to a 10.2% drop so far in 2017. Hyundai freefalls 15.5%, with Ram the only Top 10 brand in decline, with fleet sales imploding 37%. The Tucson is the only bright spot with sales up 38% to a September record, but the Elantra (-26%) and Sonata (-38%) face harsh drops. Kia on the other hand manages a 6.6% gain to a record September volume, with the Forte up 29%, the Soul up 12% and the Optima up 11%. The Genesis luxury brand is up 43% to a still intimate 1.736 sales.

First appearance of the Tesla Model 3 in the U.S. sales charts. 

The Volkswagen Group is up a roaring 22% to 56.723 units, with the Volkswagen brand up 33% thanks to two new three-row crossover: the Atlas is up 46% on August to 4.095 units while the Tiguan is up 22% on last month and 44% year-on-year to 4.301, 71% of which (3.075 sales) coming from the all-new three-row Tiguan XL launched in August. The Golf is up 24% thanks to doubled sales of the SportWagen station wagon variant and the Jetta is up 45%. Audi sales also beat the market with a 9.6% uptick fuelled by the Q5 (+16%) and Q7 (+43%), the brand’s two best-sellers in the U.S. Incredibly, this is Audi’s 81st consecutive record U.S. sales month.

Subaru is up a slim 0.4% to hit a September record, the brand’s lowest year-on-year gain since March 2016 but marking 70 consecutive months of year-on-year gains. The Crosstrek (+51%) and Impreza (+32%) lead Subaru gains this month, both breaking September records. Mercedes leads luxury brands with 29.008 sales but drops below Lexus if the Sprinter and Metris vans are removed. BMW (+0.7%) comes in third above Audi. Year-to-date, Mercedes (242.250) leads above BMW (220.175) and Lexus (219.659). Volvo surges 40.7% with the XC90 up 21% and the XC60 up 115% thanks to the new model. Porsche (+12.9%), Land Rover (+13.7%), Jaguar (+23.8%) and Rolls Royce (+55.1%) also frankly outpace the market. Finally, this month we welcome a very notable newcomer in the models ranking: the Tesla Model 3 with an estimated 220 sales, ranking #247 for now.

Previous post: USA First Half 2017: Exclusive State by State rankings now available

Previous month: USA August 2017: RAV4 repeats record volume in market hit by Harvey

One year ago: USA September 2016: Ram above Silverado, Jeep down

Full September 2017 Top 15 groups, Top 40 brands and Top 288 models below.

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