By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Automakers posted mixed results for U.S. sales in August as some received a bigger lift than others from the federal government's popular "Cash for Clunkers" trade-in program.
Ford said its U.S. sales of light vehicles were up 17 percent over last August, according to figures compiled by the research firm Autodata. Honda also showed an increase, with its U.S. sales up 9.9 percent, to 161,439. Toyota's sales rose 6.4 percent, to 225,088, as its Corolla and other sedans were popular sellers in the clunker program.
And Hyundai's U.S. results hit a record in the month, with sales up 47 percent from the previous year, to 60,467. The Korean maker has been pushing to expand its U.S. market share, and its cars also were popular in the clunker rebate program.
But not all automakers fared as well.
General Motors, the largest U.S. carmaker, posted a 19.9 percent decline in its car and light-truck sales, to 245,066, Autodata said. And Chrysler's August sales fell 15.4 percent to 93,222 units, because of a lack of inventory that hindered purchases of its more fuel-efficient vehicles. Chrysler, however, improved its month-to-month sales, which rose 5 percent from July.
Overall, U.S. sales rose 1 percent in August from August 2008 -- the first year-over-year sales increase since October 2007. Industry-wide sales totaled 1.26 million units, topping the 1 million mark for the first time since last August, but analysts cautioned that those gains are expected to be short-lived.
Auto industry analysts said every carmaker benefited from the Cash for Clunkers incentive, which allowed consumers to turn in their gas guzzlers for a voucher worth up to $4,500 toward the purchase of a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle. The $3 billion effort spurred nearly 700,000 new sales. Many carmakers have said they plan to raise their production levels to replenish inventories depleted during the program.
"We're looking at August as being the best-performing month by far this year," said Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive of Edmunds.com, an auto industry research company. "It was going to be an okay month, but then you put Cash for Clunkers on top of it, and it went crazy for a while."
He said that since the program ended last week, sales have plummeted for many carmakers.
"You're going to go from August being the best month of the year to September possibly being the worst," he said, as consumers who were planning to buy a car later this fall may have already made their purchase under the clunker program. "Those would-be sales occurred in August."
Ford has been performing better than GM and Chrysler, which both filed for bankruptcy protection and went through major restructurings with government funds. Ford said it sold 176,000 cars and light trucks in August, compared with 150,448 vehicles a year earlier. Ford's Focus and Escape hit sales records for August and were up 56 percent and 49 percent, respectively. They were two of the top eight vehicles purchased under the clunkers program.
Jim Gillette, an auto industry analyst at CSM Worldwide, said Hyundai was the "real Cinderella story" in the August sales numbers and in the clunker program. "They've absolutely surged," he said. "They had fuel-efficient cars, a great warranty program and they obviously had sufficient inventory on the lot."
He said Chrysler's performance was "ironic because that was one of the companies we were trying to help with Cash for Clunkers." But because Chrysler's inventory was low from being shut down for several months this spring during its bankruptcy reorganization, the company did not having enough vehicles to meet the demand from the rebate program.