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USA September 2020: Lexus (+31.3%), Mazda (+28.7%), Kia (+24.4%), calendar quirks help return market to positive (+5.6%)

The Lexus RX sees its sales jump 35% year-on-year in September. Picture

New light vehicle sales in the U.S. are estimated to rebound up 5.6% year-on-year in September to 1.35 million units. Although it is a lot higher than industry forecasts that predicted a stable market around 1.275 million units, this remains a rough estimate as most manufacturers don’t report U.S. monthly sales anymore. Just as August volumes were handicapped by calendar quirks, September numbers are this time artificially boosted by two more selling days vs. September 2019 and the Labor Day weekend counted in September this year instead of August last year. All-in-all, the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate (SAAR) stands at 16.51 million for the month, its highest level since the pandemic hit in March but still down -4.6% on the 17.3 million of September 2019. This small drop is a more accurate read of the U.S. market this month. Q4 perspectives are darkened by low inventories, tighter credit standards for some consumers, high unemployment and uncertainty surrounding both the presidential election and its aftermath as well as a seemingly never-ending pandemic coming into winter. Indeed the country remains the hardest hit in the world with 7.8 million total cases and over 214.000 lives lost as of today, and the situation is now worsening again this week, with over half of U.S. states reporting an increase in new cases over the previous week.

Weak fleet sales remain a drag on the market: they are expected to freefall -52% year-on-year in September to just 130.300 units and 10% of total light-vehicle sales vs. 20% a year ago, all this according to J.D. Power. Rental agencies continue to curtail their orders, having a very significant impact on the overall health of fleet sales. Local outlet Automotive News says fleet volume is not expected to fully recover until mid to late 2021, when business and leisure travel resume, pending the broad rollout of a vaccine. Reflecting lean inventories, September incentives fall $250 to $3.964 per vehicle according to J.D. Power, this is the lowest level since July 2019 and the first time this year it has dropped below $4,000. However ALG estimates incentives averaging $4.001, up 5.3% year-on-year (see chart above). Biggest culprits are GM ($5.975), Daimler ($5.653), FCA ($5.172), BMW ($4.912) and Ford ($4.325). ALG also estimates the average transaction price at $36.541, up 3.5% or $1.223 year-on-year and up 0.4% or $156 vs. last month. J.D. Power says lease penetration stands at 26.5%, down from 29.3% in September 2019 and the lowest September level since 2014. On the plus side, consistently lower interest rates have encouraged new car buyers to purchase. A final snippet of info from Cox Automotive is the fact that 2021 models represent just 3% of available inventory at the start of October, compared to 25% that were 2020 models a year ago as plant shutdowns have delayed many products and limited availability of others.

Mazda U.S. sales leap up 28.7% year-on-year in September.

Strikingly, all carmakers still reporting monthly volumes score double-digit gains in September: Toyota Motor is up 16.2%, Hyundai-Kia up 13.6% and American Honda up 11.5%. Brand-wise, Lexus surges 31.3%, Mazda soars 28.7%, Kia is up 24.4%, Acura up 16.6%, Subaru up 16.3% to a new September record at 60.103, Honda up 11% for its first post-pandemic uptick and first double-digit lift of 2020 and Volvo up 10.2% to score its best September since 2004. Hyundai edges up 5.5% as retail deliveries soar 21%, more than compensating for freefalling fleet sales (-67%). Only Genesis (-27.6%) struggles as the brand awaits for the new G80 and GV80 to hit U.S. dealership later this year. Among models reporting monthly and selling upwards of 20.000 units, The Toyota RAV4 (+25.1%), Honda CR-V (+29.6%), Toyota Camry (+21.6%), Highlander (+21.9%) and Tacoma (+14.2%) all fare great. Below, the Hyundai Palisade (+121.5%), Volvo XC40 (+75.3%), Subaru Outback (+50.9%), Honda Passport (+48.1%), Subaru Impreza WRX (+47.3%), Lexus GX (+39.9%), ES (+36.8%), RX (+35%), Toyota C-HR (+33.9%), Hyundai Kona (+31.9%) and Mazda CX-5 (+31.5%) stand out. The Kia Telluride (8.829), Kia K5 (5.763) and Seltos (5.613) break their all-time U.S. monthly volume records.

Kia is the only Top 10 brand to register a year-on-year uptick in Q3 (+3.9%).

Q3 2020 U.S. sales are estimated to be down -9.7% to 3.923.546 units according to our sources, which brings the year-to-date tally down -18.8% to 10.404.052. Morgan Stanley has raised its U.S. 2020 Forecast from 14 million (-18%) to 14.5 million sales (-15%) as a result of the strong September showing. Group-wise, General Motors (-9.9%), Toyota Motor (-11%), FCA (-10.4%) and American Honda (-9.5%) all roughly match the market evolution but Ford Motor (-4.7%) slices the market fall in two. Hyundai-Kia (+0.9%) is the only major automotive group in positive over Q3 in the U.S. just as Nissan Motor/Mitsubishi (-30.1%) continues to freefall as it sheds unprofitable fleet sales, BMW Group (-15.8%) struggles and the Volkswagen Group (-9.6%) matches the market. Kia (+3.9%) is the only Top 10 brand managing a year-on-year uptick in Q3, with Hyundai (-1.3%), Ram (-2.2%) and Ford (-4.8%) containing their loss, Subaru (-8.8%), Jeep (-9.5%) and Honda (-10.6%) roughly matching the market but Nissan (-32.6%), Toyota (-12.7%) and Chevrolet (-11.2%) in a rut. Below, Alfa Romeo (+17.3%), Volvo (+11.1%), Chrysler (+7.9%), Mazda (+6.9%), Porsche (+5%), Tesla (+5%), Lexus (+2%), Acura (+1.6%) and Mitsubishi (+1.6%) stand out with lifts.

The Ford F-Series actually sees its volume increase year-on-year in Q3 (+3.5%).

In the Q3 U.S. models ranking, the Ford F-Series (+3.5%) widens the gap with  its direct large pickup competitors, even managing the only year-on-year gain among the Top 7 nameplates. The Ram Pickup (-3.4%) reclaims the 2nd spot overall off the Chevrolet Silverado (-5.1%) but the latter remains at #2 YTD with volumes up 1.3% over the same period in 2019. Note Ram pickup retail sales are up 15% year-on-year over the quarter. The Toyota RAV4 (-3.9%) cements its domination of the SUV segment with a 30.000+-unit advantage over the Honda CR-V (-14.8%) while the Toyota Camry (-4.1%) reclaims the Passenger Cars top spot off the Honda Civic (-15.3%) both over Q3 and YTD. The GMC Sierra (+2.4%) is the only additional gainer in the Top 11, while the Toyota Highlander (-9.8%) shoots up to #10 over the quarter vs. #17 so far in 2020. The renewed Ford Explorer (+73.9%) scores the largest lift in the Top 45, with the Hyundai Palisade (+84.5%), Nissan Frontier (+63.9%), Chevrolet Blazer (+45.2%), Chrysler Pacifica (+32.3%), VW Atlas (+10.1%) and Ford Ranger (+8.2%) also heading in the right direction further down. The Tesla Model Y (#42) is the best-selling recent launch and the only one cracking the Q3 Top 70 (you will also note an adjusted YTD volume), distancing the Buick Encore GX (#72), Kia Seltos (#75), Mazda CX-30 (#96), Kia K5 (#97) and Chevrolet Trailblazer (#102). Notice also the resurrection of the Toyota Venza nameplate (#218), in fact a Toyota Harrier made in Japan.

Previous month: USA August 2020: Economic uncertainty, low inventory hold volumes down -20%, Volvo (+12.9%) only gainer

One year ago: USA September 2019: BMW (+6%), Mercedes (+4.5%) survive, Toyota (-15.5%), Nissan (-14.6%) struggle in market down -11.8%

Full Q3 2020 Top 15 groups, Top 40 All-brands and Top 300 All-models below.

Full September 2020 data for selected groups, brands and models below.

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