Though a senior GM executive estimates half of the maker’s dealers in New Jersey are still not open in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, the maker said its sales nonetheless hit their highest October levels since 2007. And most of the industry’s other major players also appear to have come through the late-month disaster in good shape.
If anything, industry officials say the storm clouds might hi ave a silver lining in that there could be a flurry of activity in the months ahead as consumers and fleet customers alike race to replace vehicles ruined in the storm.
Though a number of makers have yet to report in, the indication is that the industry remained on track for the best October since before the recent recession began. But some analysts are now estimating that sales could have been reduced by as much as 30,000 units or more as those on the East Coast prepared for the storm and then struggled to stay out of harm’s way.
GM’s 5 percent year-over-year gain was actually one of the more modest increases. Chrysler was up 10 percent, Volkswagen 22 percent and Toyota 16 percent.
That was one of the smallest gains by the Japanese maker this year, however. It’s unclear whether the storm played a role or if Toyota has simply satisfied so-called pent-up demand among buyers who had to wait through much of 2011 due to the shortages caused by Japan’s own natural disaster, the March earthquake and tsunami that nearly shut down its auto industry.
Analysts pointed to a variety of factors that could be influencing the American market right now, including superstorms and stormy politics that have apparently led many business customers to wait to see how the presidential election shakes out.
On the positive side, said GM sales chief Kurt McNeil, there’s been a definite “inflection point” in the housing market that should add a tailwind to support new vehicle demand in the U.S.
The giant Detroit maker said it now expects full 2012 sales will come close or above the high range of its forecast of between 14.0 million and 14.4 million. “We’re confident,” said McNeil, “the industry will have a strong fourth quarter and continuing growth next year.”
Chrysler officials, meanwhile, is now expecting full-year sales of 14.7 million, among the highest forecast of any maker.
Ford officials estimated the superstorm likely cost the industry as much as 25,000 lost sales. But sales chief Ken Czubay also said such purchases are typically just postponed and later recovered, And with a “significant number” of vehicles damaged or destroyed in the Sandy’s wake, buyers will have to eventually replace them.
Ford had just a modest 0.4% increase in sales last month – though demand for the full-size F-Series pickup line reached the highest level for October in eight years.
Volkswagen noted a full quarter of its US dealerships were impacted by the storm but the German maker still managed the best October it has had in nearly 40 years.