The mood was set for October's United States sales announcements when General Motors confirmed a new round of incentives shortly before releasing their October figures. Sure enough, the monthly results were not pretty, writes Bill Cawthon.

According to Ward's Auto, Americans bought just over 1.3 million light vehicles last month. That's a 27.3% drop from last year's record 1.722 million. The results were anticipated: October 2001 was a tough act to follow. That was a record month for car sales, fuelled by aggressive financing and appeals to patriotism following the September 11 tragedy.

Almost every car maker reported a decline in October, from Honda's relatively small 5.8% drop, to Ford's 33.9% plunge. GM took a 32.2% hit with passenger car sales plummeting 40.3%. Relatively speaking, Chrysler fared best of the Detroit manufacturers, with a 30.9% fall.

The German side of DaimlerChrysler did better. Driven by sales of the new E-Class, Mercedes-Benz had a record October and was again the best-selling luxury brand for the month. Still, based on daily sales rates, Mercedes came up a half-percent short of October 2001.

Even mighty Toyota took it on the chin. Japan's largest car maker missed last year's mark by almost 29,000 units, for a 20.6% loss. Lexus sales fell 22%, dropping it to fourth place among luxury brands, behind Mercedes, Cadillac and BMW.

BMW was the only manufacturer reporting a gain, although both the Munich manufacturer and Mercedes sold more vehicles last month than in October 2001. BMW's 17.3% boost came largely from the new Mini line, but even without the popular British car, BMW brand sales improved by just over a quarter of a percent.

Even though the volume was smaller last month, some things were unchanged. Ford's F-Series pickup remained America's favourite vehicle, followed by the Chevrolet Silverado and Ford Explorer.

Best sellers among passenger cars were the same three that have been at the top of the heap for a decade. In October, the Camry reclaimed the crown from the Accord and the Taurus came in third.

Among minivans, the Dodge Caravan maintained its lead over the Honda Odyssey which has now replaced the Ford Windstar in second place.
And Ford is still outselling Chevrolet.

Compared to last October, light trucks commanded a larger share of total vehicle sales, with the Big Three taking the lion's share. In passenger cars, the opposite remains true as more Americans choose import brands.

New models posted modest sales. Among the incomers, which include the Kia Sorrento and Subaru Baja, probably none is more crucial than Saturn's Ion. The GM 'import fighter' division's VUE sport-utility vehicle had strong sales in October, but the ageing S- and lacklustre Opel Vectra-based L-series are both fading fast.

October 2002's results were enough to drop year-to-date sales 2.2% behind last year's pace and the gap is expected to grow to as much as 5% by the end of December.

Many analysts blame the spectre of a potential war with Iraq, but the more likely culprit is consumer concern about the economy.

Saddam Hussein may be making weapons of mass destruction, but he's not issuing pink slips [a tax form issued when a US employee leaves a job].

  • Source is country of manufacture.  Domestics are from U.S., Canada, Mexico.  Imports are from overseas. 
  • Light vehicles are cars and light trucks (GVW Classes 1-3, under 14,001 lbs.). 
  • DSR is daily sales rate.         
  • Source: Ward's AutoInfoBank
    ©Copyright 2002, Ward'sAuto.com, a division of PRIMEDIA Business Magazines & Media Inc.  Redistribution prohibited.

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