US cars sales offer mixed picture

American car sales declined 11 percent compared to the prior month, and fell 1.3 percent compared to October 2016.

American car sales declined 11 percent compared to the prior month, and fell 1.3 percent compared to October 2016, according to research firm Autodata.

Despite plentiful financial incentives and a relatively flat average new vehicle price, carmakers continued to struggle to maintain momentum to end the year on a high note, after seven straight years of growth and a record 2016.

In September, almost all major car makers enjoyed sales gains as drivers in Texas and Florida affected by hurricanes replaced ruined vehicles. But that momentum did not continue industry-wide in October.

Among the bigger players in the North American market, Ford, Nissan, Honda and Toyota posted gains, while car giants General Motors and Fiat Chrysler (FCA US) saw their sales retreat.

"The overall pace has certainly declined," said analyst Alec Gutierrez of Kelley Blue Book, adding a silver lining that sales totals are still coming in above analysts' expectations.

Including the latest month's figures, Autodata estimates the seasonally-adjusted annual sales rate at 18.09 million units, well above some forecasts.

That would beat last year's record pace for the same time period, suggesting car companies could still have a good year, even if not a record one.

"At the very beginning of the year, we called this the post-peak era," Autotrader analyst Michelle Krebs said.

"It shouldn't be lost on us that this is a pretty strong market," she said. "The economic indicators are strong... and in the consumer confidence area: 17-year highs."

- 'More gainers than decliners' -

GM sales were down 2.2 percent in October from the year-ago period. The company blamed weak sales of cars and one fewer selling day this October compared to last.

FCA US had another bad month, with sales falling 13 percent. The company blamed much of that on a planned drawdown of fleet sales, but its retail sales also dropped four percent.

The company's popular Jeep SUV brand experienced retail sales gains, as did its Ram pickup truck. But those gains were not enough to offset major losses in Chrysler, Dodge and Fiat brands.

Ford's F-Series pickup trucks helped the company reach 6.2 percent sales gains, and fleet and retail sales were up.

Nissan experienced an impressive 8.4 percent increase, while Toyota and Honda eked out about a one-percent rise each.

"While October's sales won't compare to last month's break out performance, we are seeing more gainers than decliners when looking at the individual makes," economist Charlie Chesbrough of Cox Automotive said in a statement.

Ford sold 15.9 percent more of the trucks compared to last October, even with average transaction prices for the vehicles up $4,000 to $47,300.

The F-Series trucks are popular in the Houston, Texas area where Hurricane Harvey flooding destroyed many vehicles, according to analysts.

SUVs and pickup trucks helped Toyota offset a 14.5 percent decline in its car sales. The company's RAV4 SUV remained its most popular offering, but Camry and Corolla sedans remained popular even if selling less than last year.

Nissan sold more trucks as well as sedans. Its Rogue SUV remained by far its most popular offering. But, Sentra small sedans were the second most popular and experienced a 29.5 percent sales gain.


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