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Ford, Subaru and Hyundai lead first U.S. sales gain in 21 months

Sales reach 1.3 million vehicles as adjusted rate hits 13.7 million

Ford, Subaru and Hyundai-Kia led automakers posting August U.S. sales increases, as the government’s cash-for-clunkers program lifted industry demand to its highest levels since August 2008.

Light-vehicle sales hit 1.3 million, passing the 1-million mark for the first month since August 2008.

Sales increased 1.0 percent year-over-year to end 21 straight months of declines, while demand hit a 13.7-million-unit annual rate.

The increase came despite sharp drops at Chrysler Group and General Motors Co. The declines at both companies were shaper than they were in July.

“This was a very short-lived, ‘booster shot’ of a program,” Goldman Sachs analyst Patrick Archambault said of the cash-for-clunkers incentive.

Most automakers’ results were worse than analysts’ expectations because of sharp declines after cash for clunkers ended Aug. 24, he said.

Ford Motor Co.’s light-vehicle sales rose 17.2 percent, the largest increase since July 2005. The gain followed Ford’s 2.4 percent increase in July, which was its first year-over-year growth in 19 months.

Subaru’s sales spiked 51.5 percent, the brand’s largest increase since at least 1998, according to Automotive News data. Subaru’s eight-month sales were 11.2 percent above last year, and it is the only automaker ahead of its 2008 pace.

Hyundai-Kia’s sales soared 52.1 percebnt in August, the biggest increase since the companies joined in July 2002.

GM was off 20.1 percent in August, following its 19.4 percent drop in July.

Mike DiGiovanni, GM’s executive director of global market and industry analysis, said sales in August 2008 were inflated because of GM’s employee-pricing incentives tied to its 100th birthday.Chrysler’s sales fell 15.4 percent, worse than July’s 9.4 percent drop. Chrysler spokeswoman Kathy Graham blamed the sales decline on low inventory, saying the company had five vehicles that ended August with less than a 10-day supply.

At Volkswagen Group of America, sales rose 14.2 percent in August, the biggest rise since May 2006.

Honda’s light-vehicle sales increased 9.9 percent, the biggest year-over-year monthly increase since May 2008.

Sales at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. rose 6.4 percent gain, its largest increase since June 2007. Toyota was the top-selling brand in the government’s clunker program, according to government data. At Ford, F-series sales rose 12.8 percent in August to 45,590, the first increase since October 2006, Ford said.

That provides “an indication that small-business owners are seeing signs of recovery,” Ken Czubay, Ford’s vice president for U.S. marketing, sales and service, said in a statement.

Ford also noted a 55.9 percent rise in Focus sales and a 49.3 percent boost for the Escape crossover.

After the August boost from the clunker program, analysts see a lull ahead.

“What’s most meaningful is what’s going to follow August,” Goldman Sachs’ Archambault said. He said he’s expecting the sales rate in September and October to hover around 10 million units before increasing to an 11- or 12-million-unit rate in November and December.

“You take some pain in September and October, and then you move on,” he said. “If it’s something more sinister than that, if demand was propped up and made to seem higher than it was, that would obviously be bad news.”

Article courtesy of Chrissie Thompson, Automotive News
Richard Truett, Bradford Wernle and Jamie LaReau contributed to this report

John Paul Strong

John Paul Strong combines his two decades of automotive marketing experience with a team of more than 150 professionals as owner and CEO of Strong Automotive.

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