* GM beats expectations, other major automakers miss
* Truck sales still strong but growth slows
* Detroit automakers post double-digit gains
* 1.2 million industry total falls short of forecasts
* Analysts remain mixed on longer-term outlook
By Bernie Woodall and Ben Klayman
DETROIT, Nov 1 The 16-day U.S. government
shutdown in early October appeared to dampen consumers' appetite
for new cars, as seven of the top eight automakers reporting
monthly sales on Friday missed analysts' expectations.
Industry sales in October rose 10.6 percent to 1,208,036
vehicles, according to industry research firm Autodata. Analysts
had expected a 12 percent increase.
Sales for the three Detroit-based automakers, driven partly
by steady demand for full-size pickup trucks, rose by double
digits from a year earlier, but only General Motors Co
October sales dipped to an annual rate of 15.23 million
vehicles, according to Autodata, the lowest rate since April.
The weaker-than-expected sales rate "was primarily driven by
the government shutdown impacting consumer sentiment through the
first half of the month," Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said
on Friday in a briefing note to clients.
Analysts had forecast stronger performances in October from
Ford Motor Co and Chrysler Group LLC, as well as
from Toyota Motor Corp, Honda Motor Co, Nissan
Motor Co, Hyundai Motor Co and Volkswagen
GM said October sales climbed nearly 16 percent to 226,402
vehicles from 195,764 a year ago, with all four GM brands
reporting year-to-year increases, led by Buick, up 31 percent.
Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, on average, expected GM
sales of 211,563.
Results at Ford and Chrysler narrowly missed analysts'
expectations, as did those at Toyota, Honda and Nissan.
Ford said October U.S. sales increased 14 percent to 191,985
vehicles, from 168,456 a year earlier. Ford and Lincoln brand
sales both rose during the month. Analysts expected 194,301.
Chrysler reported October sales of 140,083, up 11 percent
from 126,185 a year ago. Analysts expected 143,536.
Toyota sales rose 8.8 percent to 168,976 vehicles, while
Honda was up 7.1 percent to 114,538 and Nissan was up 14.2
percent to 91,018. Analysts expected 176,815 at Toyota, 119,823
at Honda and 93,632 at Nissan.
Hyundai Motor Co said group sales in the United
States rose 0.6 percent to 93,309. Hyundai brand sales climbed
6.5 percent to 53,555 while Kia sales dropped 6.4 percent to
Analysts said vehicle demand began to pick up after the
government resumed working at mid-month.
"The market seemed to respond pretty quickly and the cadence
(of sales) seemed to improve," said Itay Michaeli, analyst at
Citi Research. "That, I think, is a testament to some of the
pent-up demand out there."
Added GM's chief economist Mustafa Mohatarem: "It's like
what we've seen with oil prices in recent years where people are
getting accustomed to some of the noise coming out of
Washington. It may change people's perspective on exactly when
to pull the trigger on buying a new vehicle, but we're not
seeing much of an impact on the longer-term trend, which has
been very positive."
Sales of full-size pickups, buoyed by a steady housing
market and lower gasoline prices, continued to show strength in
October, although their torrid year-long pace slowed a bit.
Ford's F-series was up 13 percent for the month and up 20
percent for the year to date, while Chrysler's Ram was up 18
percent for the month and 23 percent for the year to date. The
Chevrolet Silverado was up 10 percent for the month and 20
percent for the year.
Average transaction prices for all full-size trucks in
October jumped more than 5 percentage points from a year ago, to
$39,189, according to Kelley Blue Book.
"The truck segment will remain hotly contested through the
rest of this year," said analyst Alec Gutierrez of Kelley Blue
Book, with GM spending less than Ford and Chrysler to promote
its Silverado and Sierra.
Volkswagen AG's U.S. subsidiary said VW brand
sales fell 18 percent to 28,129 vehicles. The German automaker's
upscale Audi brand reported record sales of 13,001, up 11
percent, with Porsche boosting sales 11 percent to 3,562. Group
sales of 44,692 were down 9 percent from a year ago, missing
analysts' expectations of 48,654.
Consumer demand for electrified vehicles remain mixed.
October sales of GM's Chevrolet Volt dropped 32 percent to
2,022, while Nissan Leaf climbed 27 percent to 2,002.
With the U.S. economy still in low gear and the next round
of congressional budget and debt negotiations looming in early
2014, analysts remain mixed in their longer-range outlook.
"If we could ever get some strong economic footing in this
country to drive lower unemployment (and higher consumer)
confidence, I think we've got a dam that's still waiting to
burst," said Karl Brauer of Kelley Blue Book.
GM shares were up 1.2 percent at $37.38 on Friday afternoon
on the New York Stock Exchange, while Ford shares were down 1.5
percent at $16.86.