DETROIT - Weakness in the housing market and flagging consumer confidence made September another tough month for the auto industry, although General Motors, Honda and Nissan bucked the trend with hot-selling new vehicles, according to U.S. sales figures released Tuesday.
Ford Motor Co.’s U.S. sales plummeted 21 percent for the month, largely due to a 62 percent reduction in sales to rental car companies. Toyota Motor Corp. posted a 4 percent decline but still outpaced Ford for the month and for the January-September period, continuing its drive to replace Ford as the nation’s No. 2 automaker in sales after GM. Toyota had sold 28,654 more vehicles than Ford as of the end of September. Chrysler LLC also was down 5 percent for the month.
Overall U.S. sales were down 3 percent from last September, according to Autodata Corp.
General Motors Corp. said sales were flat compared with last September, despite a month of difficult labor negotiations and a two-day strike by the United Auto Workers union.
GM produced 30,000 fewer vehicles because of the strike, but the walkout had no impact on sales and GM’s production schedule is unchanged, said GM’s top sales analyst, Paul Ballew.
Ballew said the Federal Reserve’s interest rate cut in the middle of September didn’t have an immediate impact on sales but helped calm the market and ensure that the tightening mortgage market won’t affect automotive credit.
“For us as an industry, we support and applaud the Fed’s move because we cannot have the spillover effects into other categories,” Ballew said.
Still, he said high energy prices and a slump in important markets like California and Florida will continue to hurt the industry through the fourth quarter.
Erich Merkle, vice president of auto industry forecasting for consulting company IRN Inc. in Grand Rapids, said it will take months for the rate cut to trickle down to average consumers.