GM, Chrysler, Honda Had a Hot August : Autos: The month’s sales figures are the strongest so far this year. Analysts foresee a stronger second half.

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

General Motors Corp., Chrysler Corp. and Honda on Friday reported robust vehicle sales in August, putting the month on track to become the strongest so far this year and part of a long-awaited sales rebound for the industry, analysts said.

Two of the biggest auto makers, Ford Motor Co. and Toyota, won’t report August sales until next week. But the numbers reported Friday show that lower interest rates, higher sales to government and rental agency fleets and an improvement in consumer confidence helped boost sales, analysts said.

“My guess is that what we’re seeing is the beginning of a stronger second half,” said J.P. Morgan Securities analyst David Bradley.


GM, the world’s No. 1 auto maker, announced a light-vehicle sales increase of 7.1% to 446,394 from 416,825, led by a strong month in its Chevrolet division and higher sales to fleets.

Chrysler, the No. 3 U.S. auto maker, said total vehicle sales rose 4% to 170,557 from 163,858, for the company’s third straight monthly increase.

Among Japanese auto makers, Honda said its U.S. sales reached 87,728 units, 3.1% above a year ago and an all-time record.

Including medium and heavy trucks, analyst David Healy of Burnham Securities Inc. said the seasonally adjusted annual selling rate for August could exceed 16 million units. That would make August the industry’s strongest month this year.

“They seem to be coming in a little bit stronger than what I was looking for,” Healy said. “I think what [the August numbers] are saying is that car sales are not in a decline.”

For Detroit’s auto makers, the sales results were a rare bright spot in a year of unmet expectations. They had projected sales of 16 million cars and trucks this year, well above last year’s 15.1 million. As the economy slowed, those forecasts were revised downward. Detroit’s major auto makers are now unofficially predicting light vehicle sales of about 15 million.


The average interest rate for a 36-month new car loan of $10,000 dropped to 9.23% in June, according to HSH Associates.

At the same time, most auto makers continued to offer higher incentives such as cash rebates to boost sales.

At GM, Chevrolet sales rose to 214,132 from 194,225. Sales of the redesigned Chevrolet Cavalier rose 74% from last year. Lumina and Monte Carlo sales were up 60%.

GM’s car sales rose 8.6% from a year ago to 279,855 from 257,650. Truck sales were up 4.6% to 166,539.

Shortages of certain truck models, notably Suburbans and Tahoes, are plaguing Showcase Chevrolet in Westminster, sales manager Steve Mitchell said.

That in turn has strengthened used-vehicle prices.

“The shortage of new car inventories is driving the cost of used cars up,” he said.

A late-model used truck that cost $15,000 last year would cost $16,500 now, he said, “a good 10% [increase] on the truck side.”


Chrysler’s truck sales established a new August record of 109,536, up 6% from a year ago. Chrysler sold 61,201 cars, slightly above a year ago. Combined sales of the Dodge and Plymouth Neon set a new August record of 20,888 units. And minivan sales remained strong.

At Alhambra Dodge, buyers of the 1996 Dodge Caravan face waits of up to 10 weeks, sales manager John Oder said. Van sales have helped pump up overall vehicle sales, he said.

Nissan posted a 3.1% gain in August U.S. sales, but Mazda said its U.S. sales plunged 29%, and Mitsubishi reported a 5% decline.


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