As pundits predicted, it was a darn good month for auto sales with few exceptions. Total U.S. auto sales were up about 11% for the month. Small cars were behind a lot of the the improvements as consumers, who have held onto vehicles through the recession, ceded to pent-up demand. Fiat was the strongest brand for Chrysler last month, and the same story held for Ford and General Motors. Toyota and Honda, meanwhile, are back, and Korean brands continued their romp in the U.S. market while Chrysler continued its resurgence.
The Asian brands posted the big percentage gains. Toyota Motor Sales posted a 41.5% increase compared to the same period last year, with the Toyota division posting a 42.3% increase and Lexus posting sales of 20,386 units -- up 36% from the month last year.
Said Bill Fay, Toyota group vice president and general manager, in a statement: "Our dealers got off to a great start over Labor Day weekend and that momentum carried through the rest of the month, as Camry continued to stretch its lead as the most popular car in America." The automaker's Scion division saw a 75.7% increase as well.
American Honda saw a 30.9% increase versus the month last year, the eponymous division posting a 29.3% increase and Acura a 43.5% increase in the U.S. Accord led all Honda vehicles in September with 29,182 in sales, posting a 56.6% gain.
And Korean brand Hyundai Motor America hit a record 60,025 sales for the month, a 15% increase and a 10% increase for the first nine months.
"September was a very encouraging month for Hyundai as we avoided the traditional back-to-school sales decline and began to reap the benefits of a materially improved inventory situation on our core vehicle lines," said Dave Zuchowski, EVP of sales.
The all-new Azera got a 1028% gain (no that's not a typo, but the sales comparison is against the very long-in-the-tooth first-generation model), and Elantra saw a 27% increase.
The other Korean -- Kia -- hit another record, making it the 25th consecutive month of record sales, posting a 35.1% increase over the same period in 2011. Kia was also one of thirteen brands to be in the top 100 brands in Interbrand's new global brand ranking. It's also the first time there have been so many auto brands in the top 100.
Toyota was in tenth place, followed directly by Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Honda was in 21st place and Volkswagen was 39th, followed by Ford at 45th -- the only domestic auto brand -- Hyundai was 53rd, followed by Audi, Porsche, Nissan, Kia, then motorcycle brand Harley Davidson. Ferrari was in 99th place.
Nissan posted essentially flat sales versus last year, with a 1.1% decrease, with the Nissan Division down 2.4% and Infiniti up 11.4% versus the month last year.
General Motors reported its highest September U.S. sales since 2008, with a 1.5%, and a 29% increase in passenger car sales. The company said sales of mini, small and compact cars were up a combined 97%, and all GM brands increased their retail sales.
Kurt McNeil, VP of U.S. sales operations, said the small cars did it. “Auto sales will continue to be a bright spot for the U.S. economy, which is particularly good news for GM as we walk into an even stronger cadence of new products in 2013 and 2014.”
Ford sales were flat if fleet sales are included, but retail was up 4%, with sales of small cars Focus, Fiesta and C-MAX up 73% making it the best month for the automaker's smaller vehicles since 2002. The company said sales of Focus were up 91%, while the Escape compact crossover sales were up 14% to its best-ever month. For trucks Ford said the F-Series saw its 14th consecutive year-over-year sales increase and did its best September since 2007.
Chrysler Group's five brands enjoyed a combined 12% increase compared to last year, posting its best September sales since 2007. Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram Truck and Fiat all posted year-over-year sales gains, and Fiat, at 51% had the biggest gain of any Chrysler Group brand. September marked Chrysler Group's 30th consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains.
Reid Bigland, president and CEO of the Dodge brand and head of U.S. sales, said that record low interest rates and a stable U.S. economy helped. As did the new Dodge Dart compact car of which the automaker sold 5,235 in September. Dodge brand sales were up 18%; Jeep was up 10% for the month and Chrysler 5%. Ram Truck, which launches a big marketing push on Monday, was up 6%.