Paul Sancya  /  AP
Roger Coleman Jr. looks at Ford SUVs in Redford, Mich. on Wednesday. Ford's U.S. sales fell 7 percent in September despite offering competitive month-end incentive deals.
updated 10/1/2004 6:14:32 PM ET 2004-10-01T22:14:32

Led by giant General Motors Corp., the U.S. automotive industry rebounded in September with one of its most robust months of the year, as new 2005 models, Labor Day weekend business and an aggressive clearance sale at GM pushed up sales.

GM, the world’s largest automaker, said Friday its new vehicle business rose a surprising 20 percent last month. Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group also fared well, posting double-digit gains, but Ford Motor Co. struggled despite incentive offers much the same as GM’s.

Honda Motor Co., Japan’s No. 2 automaker behind Toyota, also saw overall sales fall off.

Industrywide, U.S. sales were up 6 percent from a year ago. That percentage is adjusted and based on the daily sales rate. There were 25 selling days last month and 24 in September 2003.

The seasonally adjusted annual sales rate for September was 17.5 million units versus 16.97 million last September, according to Autodata Corp. Full-year sales for 2003 were 16.7 million.

“This was an overall good month for sales, despite the weather in the Southeast, and a month many producers needed,” said Paul Taylor, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association. “But September was also an unforgiving month if your product wasn’t new, or your pricing not ultra-competitive.”

GM said truck sales, which were up 32.7 percent, eclipsed the all-time industry record last month. Chevrolet had its best month since October 2001.

Earlier this week, in well-publicized sales, GM and Ford offered no-interest, six-year loans on most remaining 2004 models. Because of sluggish sales this year, both have been saddled with above-average backlogs of vehicles that prompted planned production cuts for the fourth quarter.

GM and Ford both raised incentives again on Friday.

Chrysler, whose year-over-year sales have risen in 11 of the past 12 months, continued to experience strong demand for its Chrysler 300 sedan. Overall, Chrysler Group sales were up 10 percent, while Chrysler brand sales rose 43 percent.

The 300 — called the 300C when it’s equipped with Chrysler’s popular V8 Hemi engine — has become America’s “in” sedan since hitting showrooms in April.

“The Chrysler 300 absolutely sells itself in the marketplace,” said Gary Dilts, Chrysler’s senior vice president for sales.

Ford, the nation’s second-largest automaker, said overall sales fell nearly 7 percent in September from a year ago, the seventh time this year monthly sales have been below year-ago results. Ford has been hurt by a lack of new offerings on the car side, but the company says several recent vehicle launches should help spur demand.

Toyota and Nissan, on the other hand, rode a slew of new products to post double-digit sales gains.

Toyota said its business was up 10.3 percent in September — 11.9 percent on the car side and 8.5 percent for trucks.

“The arrival of new model-year products and a strong Labor Day weekend boosted September sales,” said Jim Press, chief operating officer of Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. “Despite continuing fluctuations in oil prices and destructive weather in the Southeast, the industry held tight.”

Toyota reported best-ever September sales for light trucks — which include pickups, minivans and sport utility vehicles — and for the gas-electric Prius hybrid sedan, which went on sale in the United States in 2000. Toyota sold 4,309 Prius sedans last month. The company said Thursday it will double to 100,000 the number of Priuses allocated for the U.S. market next year.

Nissan continued to have a strong year as its business rose nearly 11 percent in September. Car sales were off slightly more than 1 percent, but truck sales, lifted by the Titan full-size pickup and Murano crossover vehicle, rose 31 percent.

Once again, car sales dragged down overall results at Ford, where sales of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brand cars were down nearly 22 percent.

Even though Ford has dubbed 2004 the “Year of the Car,” the company has struggled, in part, because of late-year launches for many of its new models. With most vehicles now in production, such as the Ford Five-Hundred flagship sedan and redesigned Mustang, Ford officials say business should pick up in the final months of 2004 and into early 2005.

“We’re confident car sales will improve in the fourth quarter,” said Jim O’Connor, Ford’s group vice president for North American marketing, sales and service.

Ford’s truck sales fell 1.3 percent, despite strong demand for the Ford F-150 pickup. F-150 sales rose about 20 percent last month from record sales in the same month a year ago.

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