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Slowing truck sales keep Ford from September auto sales gains; GM rises

Slowing truck sales keep Ford from September auto sales gains; GM rises
Hondas for sale at the Paragon Honda dealership in Queens, N.Y. All major U.S. automakers but Ford reported healthy auto sales gains for September. (Craig Warga, Bloomberg)

Americans continued to purchase more cars in September. All the major automakers but Ford – which is seeing stiff competition for its pickup trucks – posted healthy gains in U.S. auto sales last month.

General Motors Co. said Wednesday that it sold 223,437 vehicles in the U.S. in September, a 19% increase from the same month a year earlier.

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"GM saw strength almost across the board in September, and outpaced the industry with the newest trucks and SUVs," said Kurt McNeil, U.S. vice president of sales operations.

Robust sales of trucks and crossovers helped the automaker reach an average sales price of $34,600 for its vehicles last month, the highest in company history, GM said.

When all the numbers are tallied, the industry looks to have achieved about 10% growth, selling about 1.25 million vehicles, said George Magliano, the senior auto economist at IHS Automotive.

"The industry is alive and well," Magliano said. "It is turning out to be another good year."

IHS estimates total sales of 16.4 million for the year, the best since 2006 when the industry sold 16.5 million vehicles.

Also Wednesday, GM Chief Executive Mary Barra outlined the automaker's strategic plan to investors.

Barra said the company wants its profit margins to rise to 9% to 10% by early next decade.

GM will continue to roll out new products, which will account for an increasing percentage of its sales, Barra said. Next year, about 27% of GM's global sales volume is expected to come from new generation vehicles or models that have undergone major enhancements. That figure is expected to rise to 38% in 2016 and 2017, and reach 47% in 2019.

The automaker is also focused on growing sales in China and reinvigorating its struggling Cadillac luxury brand. Cadillac's U.S. sales were unchanged at about 14,000 vehicles last month but have fallen more than 4% so far this year.

Ford Motor Co. said its U.S. sales totaled 180,175 vehicles in September, down 3% from a year ago.

Ford said its sales dipped in part because it is becoming less reliant on business with rental car companies. But the automaker also is seeing sales of its industry-leading F-series pickup truck falter as it gets ready to launch a new version of the truck. It will be made with an aluminum body to reduce weight and improve fuel economy. F-series truck sales declined 1% to just under 60,000.

Sales of Chevrolet's Silverado truck, Ford's archrival, jumped 54% to more than 50,000. Sales of the Silverado's GM sibling, the GMC Sierra, rose nearly 25% to almost 17,000, allowing GM to outsell Ford in pickup trucks last month.

"Ford has a truck problem right now, and that's not something you can say very often," said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst at car shopping company Edmunds.com. "But the fact is that Ford is sitting on the sidelines while its competition is engaging a plush market of willing truck buyers."

Sales of Chrysler's Ram pickup trucks also soared last month, rising 30% to almost 37,000. All told, Chrysler Group reported total U.S. sales of 169,890 vehicles, a 19% increase from the same month a year earlier and Chrysler's best September sales since 2005.

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Toyota said its U.S. sales rose nearly 2% to 167,279 vehicles last month compared to September a year earlier.

"Auto sales remained strong in September and rounded out an excellent third quarter, the best for the industry since 2006," said Bill Fay, Toyota division group vice president and general manager.

Honda reported that its sales rose 12% to 118,223 vehicles. Its Honda brand had its best September since 2007.

Nissan also posted a big gain with sales rising nearly 19% to 102,955 vehicles last month, a September record for the automaker.

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