Popular new F-150 truck boosted Ford
results this month

No one was looking for big numbers from September’s sales in the United States,
and that’s what they got, writes Bill Cawthon. Americans bought or leased 1.3
million light vehicles last month, the lowest volume since February. Still,
that was enough to come in 1.8% ahead of September 2002.


Winners and losers were almost evenly divided, with new September sales records set by Toyota, Volvo, Jaguar and Land Rover, among others. Mitsubishi, in the month a new chief took the helm, was a big loser, down 33.3%.


Ford caught analysts by surprise. Instead of losing ground, the second-largest manufacturer came in over 14,000 sales ahead of its 2002 mark, with solid performances from several lines.


Ford’s new F-Series pickup truck line lived up to Dearborn’s hopes as 81,782 left dealer lots last month, enough to beat the combined sales of GM’s four full-size pickups.


GM had the best numbers of the domestic automakers, but they are slightly deceptive. Much of the General’s 12.9% improvement was due to its poor showing last September, when sales plunged by almost the same margin.


Conversely, Chrysler did well in September 2002 but dropped almost 15% last month. About the only good news for DaimlerChrysler’s American acquisition was that Toyota did not repeat its embarrassing August performance and beat it again.


Shortly before releasing its September report, Chrysler announced new incentives, but it’s going to take more than cash to move Auburn Hill’s outdated products. The recently launced Pacifica crossover is gaining in popularity, but needs reinforcements.


Mark LaNeve’s reinvigorated Cadillac had another good month, coming in just 315 sales behind Lexus among luxury brands. While new models like the SRx are getting the media buzz, sole credit for Cadillac’s September success goes to the venerable Deville, the best-selling luxury vehicle for the month.


As a group, the Detroit automakers regained some of the ground they lost in August, taking a larger share not only of total light vehicle sales, but the passenger car segment, as well.


After a steady decline, passenger car sales seem to have rebounded in the last two months. At the same time, sport-utility vehicles continue to gain market share, accounting for almost 27.5% of sales in September. Pickups held steady with about 19%.


The SUVs’ growth is coming at the expense of the minivans, which had their poorest showing of the year. DaimlerChrysler still holds the lead in this segment, but the Dodge Caravan’s margin over the Honda Odyssey was less than a thousand units in September.


Surprisingly, Toyota’s well-regarded Sienna hasn’t lived up to the hype that surrounded its release. Far from presenting a challenge to the Caravan or Odyssey, the new Sienna is selling only slightly better than the previous version, but it has possibly been affected by supply problems resulting from a recent recall.


We’re probably in for a couple of relatively slow months, from now on, though 2003 should go down as a pretty good year for light vehicle sales. However, there is still a feeling that a correction is overdue, as well as concern that the continued robust spending by the American consumer could be jeopardised by what has been an uneven and largely jobless economic recovery.


In short, the analysts are waiting for the other shoe to drop while Detroit
is hoping it never does.

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