Auto sales tank without 'clunkers' incentive

As widely anticipated by auto industry experts, sales of new cars fell last month as consumers lost motivation to hit dealer showrooms without a little push from Uncle Sam in the form a federal rebate. Detroit's Big Three and most Asian automakers all reported lower September sales Thursday.

Ford Motor Co. (F), which benefited wildly from the Obama administration's "cash for clunkers" program that ended Aug. 24, reported sales slipped 5.1 percent in September, selling 114,241 cars and light trucks, down from 120,355 in the same month a year ago. Some models, however, saw greater demand, with sales of Ford's popular F-series trucks rising 3.5 percent and those of the new 2010 Taurus sedan increasing more than 60 percent.
But it was General Motors and Chrysler that saw the biggest drops, with sales falling 45 percent and 42 percent, respectively, from year-ago levels.

Detroit-based GM, which emerged from bankruptcy in July, said it sold 156,673 vehicles last month, down from 284,300 a year ago. Cadillac was GM's best performing unit by percentage basis, losing nine percent in sales to 11,339 units. By contrast, the soon-to-be-phased-out Saturn brand posted a 84 percent decline in sales to just 2,993 cars. GM's best-selling Chevrolet division saw sales fall 41 percent in September to 102,538 vehicles.

Chrysler, based in Auburn Hills, Mich., sold 62,197 vehicles last month from 107,349 a year ago. The worst performing brand in the company's portfolio was its namesake Chrysler brand, which saw sales plummet 61 percent to 9,046 vehicles. Dodge nameplate sales dropped 43 percent to 35,864, while Jeep slid 19 percent to 17,287 units.

"We knew sales would slow down significantly after the cash-for-clunkers surge," an auto analyst told Bloomberg News. "October will tell you what kind of rebound comes off that dip," said Stephen Spivey of Frost & Sullivan in San Antonio.

Among foreign car makers, Honda Motor Co. (HMC) reported sales fell 20 percent from September a year ago, while Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) said its sales fell 13 percent. At Nissan Motor Co. (NSANY) sales slipped seven percent, it said.

Hyundai Motor Co. (HYMTF) bucked the industry-wide decline. The Korea-based automaker said sales jumped 27 percent to 31,511 units on greater demand for its compact Elantra and mid-sized sports-utility vehicle Santa Fe.

Accounting for last month's sales drop, the adjusted annual sales rate slid to 9.3 million vehicles, down from 14.1 million in August, according to The vehicle buying guide site said the federal government's clunkers program, which offered rebates of up to $4,500 to trade in gas-guzzling vehicles, effectively pulled September sales into August.

Consumers responded enthusiastically to the incentive, purchasing 700,000 vehicles during the month-long, $3 billion program.
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