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US Light Duty Vehicle Sales Down 26.6% in September; Truck Sales Edge Past Cars

Sales of light duty trucks edged back past those of passenger cars in September 2008, capturing a 50.3% share for the month. The national average price of gasoline (all grades) is plotted in green. Click to enlarge.

Sales of new light-duty vehicles in the US plunged to 964,873 units in September, a 26.6% drop compared to September 2007, according to figures compiled by Autodata. Sales of both passenger cars and trucks plummeted, although for the first time since February the share of new light trucks edged past that of cars, to 50.3% of vehicle sales in the month. There were 24 selling days in September 2008, compared to 25 selling days last September.

Passenger car sales were down 21.6% year-on-year to 479,531 units, according to Autodata, while light truck sales dropped 31% to 485,342 units. The SAAR (seasonally adjusted annual selling rate) for the industry in September was 12.5 million units—the lowest level since 1991. The SAAR at this time last year was 16.19 million units.

US LDV SAAR. Click to enlarge.

General Motors. With a drop by volume in light-duty vehicle sales of 15.6% to 282,806 year-on-year, GM had a relatively good month compared to the other largest automakers. Car sales were down 9.8% to 118,440 units; truck sales were down 19.3% to 164,366 units. The company’s market share for the month climbed to more than 29%—its best monthly share so far this year.

Malibu sales were up 68% year-on-year to 19,725 units. GM’s mid-utility crossovers—Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook—together accounted for more than 14,000 vehicle sales. The first new Chevrolet Traverse crossovers were sold in September.

For the month, GM delivered a total of 1,957 hybrid vehicles, including 636 hybrid Chevrolet Tahoe, 374 GMC Yukon and 91 Cadillac Escalade two-mode hybrids; 382 Chevrolet Malibu; 31 Saturn Aura; and 443 Vue hybrids.

Toyota. Toyota Motor Sales (TMS) USA reported September sales of 144,260 vehicles, a 32.3% decrease by volume from last September. Passenger car sales dropped 28.1% to 88,342 units, and truck sales dropped 38% to 55,918 units.

Passenger car sales were led by Camry and Camry Hybrid, which posted combined September sales of 29,486 units—a 27% drop year-on-year. Corolla recorded sales of 21,316 units for the month, a 27.9% drop. With limited availability, the Prius mid-size gas-electric hybrid reported September sales of 10,873 units, down 13% from the prior year. Overall, TMS posted September sales of 15,399 hybrid vehicles.

Despite the steep decline in truck sales, sales of the full-size SUV Sequoia increased 22% to 2,030 units.

Ford. Sales of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles dropped 34% year-on-year to 116,734 units in September.

According to Ford’s classifications, passenger car sales were down 19.4% to 40,453 units; crossovers were down 30.2% to 22,583; trucks and vans were down 38.8% to 45,075 and SUVS plummeted 57% to 8,623 units. The Explorer SUV dropped 67.3% to 3,498 units. Ford’s important F-Series line of pickups dropped 41.6% to 32,727 units.

One of the gainers was the Ford Focus, which saw its sales increase 4.7% to 10,346 units.

Chrysler. Chrysler’s September 2008 US sales of 107,349 units were down 33% percent from the same period last year. Car sales were down 29% to 31,099 units; truck sales were down 34% to 76,250 units.

The gainers in the lineup for the month were the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivans, each up 6% (to 11,056 and 9,229 units, respectively), and the high-peformance Viper, which climbed 258% to 86 units. The Journey and the Challenger, which were not on sale last September, posted 4,860 and 2,376 units, respectively.

Chrysler’s Aspen and Durango two-mode hybrids only began arriving in dealerships during the last five days of the month; October results will include hybrid sales.

Honda. American Honda posted September vehicle sales of 96,626, a decline of 24% by volume compared to September 2007 results. Total car sales were down 22% to 56,031; total truck sales were down 26.5% to 40,595 units.

Honda’s top gainer was the Fit, which saw its sales climb 42.7% to 6,515. Sales of the Accord dropped 36% to 22,371. No Accord hybrids were sold. Sales of the Civic dropped 12.8% to 21,577 units; 2,020 units of the Civic Hybrid sold.

Nissan. Nissan North America reported September 2008 sales of 59,565 units versus 94,269 units a year ago, a decrease of 36.8%. Passenger car sales dropped 33.8% to 38,485 units; truck sales dropped 41.6% to 21,080.

Sales of the Altima were down 42.4% to 16,043 units; sales of the Versa dropped only 11.5% to 6,279 units. Nissan’s new Rogue crossover had a strong month with 5,054 units sold, compared to 832 last September, its first month on sale. Nissan sold 470 units of the Altima hybrid in September.


Henry Gibson

The oil companies and financiers have all of the money that might have bought cars. ..HG..


If I look at the graph, and see how tightly related the sales of trucks and gas price are, the first words that spring to mind are: short term thinking.


I find it hard to believe that trucks are outselling cars and Iwonder why.

Is it that:
a: People see the price of gasoline is going down and are buying trucks in the anticipation it will go further?
b: Dealers are dumping trucks and the prices are so low that people just cannot resist
c: Trucks have got a bit more efficient and people care less
d: People stopped buying cars more than trucks ?

Any suggestions?

Will S

It's still an image culture; some believe that others will perceive them negatively if they drive a car, especially a fuel efficient car. Fortunately, that trend is slowly reversing.


A suggesting is a simple inventory effect in the monthly data. They sold out of smaller cars in a few months when consumer behavior started to change importantly. Look at the annual data only and reduce the monthly date to one annual estimate and the trend is clear and as predicted. It takes 1 or 2 years to retool factories to produce more of the smaller cars and it will take 2 to 4 years to bring to market new models that are tailored for 3 to 5 dollar a gallon for diesel and gasoline instead of 2 to 3 dollars.

A dedicated model could be a small fuel efficient car that nevertheless is just as expensive as current SUVs because most people still want to show off their social status driving an expensive car. Cars like the mini and the Volt will come out from most producers in a few years I think.

Dan A

The reason that light trucks outsold cars is that the auto companies across the board have been loading up up on incentives to move them off the lot. You should see the trend reverse when the effect of the production cuts kicks in. The trend is certainly for downsizing across the board, in terms of both vehicle and engine size.

.....and that's before all the new hybrids come into production......


More trucks sales than cars? It may be the right time to apply a progressive fuel sale tax starting with $0.25/gal plus an additionnal $0.05/gal/month to bing the price up to $8+/gal within 5 years.

richard schumacher

The typical American has all the sense, foresight and memory of a wind sock. We should restructure gas taxes to establish a price floor of $5 per gallon, indexed to inflation.

Truck sales - a good percentage is probably related to government Fiscal Year end in Sept 30. If they don't spend it they lose it for next year so if they need a vehicle (or maybe not) they will buy their trucks now.

Federal fleet of vehicles is in the tens of millions.


--The typical American has all the sense, foresight and memory of a wind sock.--

LOL!!! I need to put that on a T-shirt.


Part of the reason for the truck sales resurgence was increased incentives.GM was selling base Sierras for about 33% off.Alot of truck owners who were upside down in their trucks waited for incentives to get to the point where they could afford to trade.Many of these buyers still won't even consider buying a car.


You don't suppose it is because people who actually need them can no longer put off replacing them? Slow economy are not deliveries need to be made, construction goes on, and boats need to be towed.

Best Trucks

I think that the incentives offered for trucks have driven sales numbers, and as soon as inventories have been reduced there will be a significant reduction in truck sales.


Huge truck inventories and unbelievable incentives (up to $15K on Dodge Ram) + cheaper gas may have something to do with this negative trend.

What will stop this foolishness? Would $8/gas do it? If so, let's call for a Federal fuel/carbon tax soonest. It may help a failing budget etc.

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