November 1, 2013 4:22 pm

US car sales return to double-digit growth

US car buyers shrugged off October’s government shutdown, buying about 13 per cent more vehicles compared with the same month last year, and pushing up sales at the big three domestic producers.

The figures marked a return to the double-digit growth that the industry had experienced for much of this year, after sales growth slowed to about 4 per cent in September. The seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales (Saar) – a leading industry measure – was expected to come in at 15.5m light vehicles.

However, US sales for Germany’s Volkswagen, which had been experiencing rapid growth until this year, were 18 per cent down on last October, underlining the growing problems for the company’s push into the market.

Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at Edmunds.com, the car information site, pointed out that superstorm Sandy – which hit the east coast at the end of October last year – had depressed that month’s sales.

Nevertheless, there was “underlying strength” in the auto industry, she said. “The fundamentals of an ageing fleet and widely available, relatively cheap credit continue to unleash pent-up demand.”

The strongest performer among the large carmakers was General Motors, which shrugged off an 11 per cent year-on-year decline in September to post a 16 per cent increase for October. Sales for the company’s premium Buick brand were 31 per cent up year on year, while sales of its Chevrolet Impala and Malibu passenger cars – up 40 and 63.5 per cent respectively – also stood out.

Kurt McNeil, vice-president for US sales operations, said all four of the company’s US brands – Cadillac, GMC, Buick and Chevrolet – had performed well. “The sales tempo really picked up after the government shutdown ended,” he said.

Sales for Ford, the second-biggest carmaker by sales, were 14 per cent up year on year. Sales of the Ford Fusion – which has become one of the US’s best-selling passenger cars – were 71 per cent up on last October.

However, sales growth at Toyota – the number three by sales – were up a more modest 8.8 per cent, while Volkswagen’s sharp decline – to 28,129 sales for the month – provided the latest evidence that car buyers’ enthusiasm for the company’s vehicles is waning.

Ms Krebs said VW was struggling to keep up with the industry as it discontinued old models and awaited the arrival of new ones. Senior VW US executives hope that the introduction of a seven-seat sport utility vehicle – possibly manufactured at its underutilised Chattanooga plant in Tennessee – could help to revive sales.

“Volkswagen . . . doesn’t have the product breadth to capitalise on the truck and small SUV boom,” Ms Krebs said, referring to recent strong sales of pick-up trucks and compact SUVs.

Sales for Chrysler – the market number four – were 11 per cent up year on year as it started selling its long-delayed Jeep Cherokee small SUV.

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