* Ford, Chrysler top analysts' expectations
* Most other major automakers fall short
* Industry's first yr/yr sales decline in more than 2 years
* Full-size truck sales down at GM
* Analysts mostly upbeat on 4th quarter and next year
By Deepa Seetharaman, Bernie Woodall and Ben Klayman
DETROIT, Oct 1 U.S. consumer demand for new
vehicles cooled slightly in September, as expected, as Ford
Motor Co topped analysts' expectations, but General Motors
Co fell short.
The annual auto sales rate was 15.28 million vehicles, the
slowest since April and down considerably from 16.09 million in
August, but close to what many analysts expected. Overall U.S.
auto sales fell 4.2 percent in September to 1.14 million
vehicles, according to industry research firm Autodata.
This marked the industry's first year-on-year sales decline
in more than two years. There were two fewer shopping days in
September compared with the previous year, and part of the Labor
Day shopping weekend fell in August.
One question looming over the U.S. auto industry as it heads
into the final quarter of the year is the potential impact of
the federal government shutdown on October car sales.
Analysts and executives expressed confidence that auto sales
would be able to weather the impact of a short-term shutdown of
the federal government. GM and Ford economists pointed to the
minimal impact of the debt ceiling debate on auto sales in
mid-2011, when the U.S. economy was weaker.
"As long as the underlying economic factors are supporting
the business, which we think they will through the end of the
year and through 2014, we'll get through this turbulence," said
Ken Czubay, Ford's U.S. marketing vice president.
Ford's U.S. dealers, bolstered by strong pickup sales,
delivered 185,186 vehicles in September, up 5.8 percent from the
previous year and narrowing the gap with industry leader GM to a
slim 2,000 vehicles last month.
GM, whose September sales dropped 11 percent to 187,195,
said that its dealers had a limited supply of full-size pickup
trucks. The automaker continued to add new versions of the
redesigned 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra while selling
down stocks of the 2013 models.
Silverado sales in September fell 10.8 percent. Its rival,
the best-selling Ford F-Series, rose 9.8 percent.
GM said lower retail incentives and fleet sales contributed
to its sales decline in September.
Among the other major automakers reporting on Tuesday,
Chrysler Group LLC beat analysts' expectations in September,
while Toyota Motor Corp, Honda Motor Co,
Nissan Motor Co and Hyundai Motor Co
Chrysler, an affiliate of Italy's Fiat SpA, said
sales were up 1 percent at 143,017, its best September in six
Toyota's sales dropped 4.3 percent to 164,457, Honda's
declined 9.9 percent to 105,563, Nissan's fell 5.5 percent to
86,868 and combined Hyundai-Kia sales dipped 13.9 percent to
93,105. All four companies fell short of analysts' expectations.
"We see the momentum continuing, certainly not at the
breakneck pace we've seen over the last couple of months," said
Alex Gutierrez, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. "But we
believe that our forecast for the year, which calls for 15.6
million units, is still definitely on the table."
Sales by brand, even at Ford and Chrysler, were mixed.
Chrysler's Dodge, Chrysler and Ram brands all reported
modest increases in September. Jeep sales fell 5 percent as
Chrysler struggled to get the all-new 2014 Cherokee to dealers.
Fiat brand sales plunged 24 percent, the first year-to-year
decline in 18 months.
Sales of Ford brand vehicles rose 6.3 percent, while Lincoln
sales fell 5.1 percent.
Ford said it posted the best September sales since 2006.
Chrysler's September sales were its best since 2007.
GM's Cadillac and Buick brands were up in September, while
Chevrolet and GMC fell, partly the result of declining truck
Volkswagen AG's U.S. subsidiary said VW brand
sales in September fell 12.2 percent to 31,920, while Audi sales
rose 6.2 percent to 13,065 and Porsche sales were up 13 percent
Hyundai brand sales were down 8 percent at 55,102. Kia sales
plunged 21 percent to 38,003.
BMW group sales, including those for the Mini brand, rose
8.3 percent to 28,874. Mercedes-Benz group sales, including
those for the Smart brand, climbed 5.8 percent to 27,474.
Most premium brands reported robust sales of luxury vehicles
in September. The top three premium German brands - BMW,
Mercedes-Benz and Audi - all posted increases, as did Cadillac.
But Toyota's Lexus brand fell 4.2 percent.
Sales of electric and hybrid vehicles, as with vehicles in
other sectors, were mixed. GM's Chevrolet Volt slid 38.1
percent, to 1,766. It was outsold by the Nissan Leaf, which
jumped 98.5 percent to 1,953 vehicles. Both models received
significant price cuts earlier this year, but each is still
averaging fewer than 2,000 sales per month.
Auto analysts remained mostly upbeat on the fourth-quarter
"Consumer confidence is relatively high, unemployment ticked
down to 7.3 percent in August, and we continue to see increases
in home prices and construction activity," Jefferies analyst
Elaine Kwei said in a research note.
Barclays analyst Brian Johnson called the expected September
sales decline "nothing more than noise."
Average transaction prices for new cars and trucks continued
to rise, hitting a record $31,854 in September, according to
researcher TrueCar. Prices rose $602 from August as automakers
sent more 2014 models to dealers and reduced incentives on
leftover 2013 models, TrueCar said.
GM shares closed 0.2 percent lower at $35.91 and Ford shares
ended 1.9 percent higher at $17.19 on Tuesday on the New York