By Jamison Cocklin
Sales of the Lordstown-built Chevrolet Cruze slid for the second-straight month, dropping 15.9 percent from a year ago.
General Motors said Friday that the Cruze had its best-ever October retail sales by consumers, but declining fleet sales — such as those made to rental-car companies, cities and businesses — lagged and GM sold just 16,087 Cruzes, compared with 19,121 during October 2012.
In September, amid a softening U.S. auto market, stiff competition from other small cars and a decline in fleet sales, Cruze deliveries dropped by 50 percent in one of the worst sales months in the car’s history.
At the time, analysts weren’t expecting a strong rebound in Cruze sales and said a downward trend could become more evident if sales continued to drop through the end of the year.
The Cruze still remains the company’s second best-selling vehicle, and the U.S. auto market is shifting from robust to stable growth, said Jesse Toprak, an analyst at the automotive information website TrueCar.com.
During a conference call last month, GM officials said fleet orders were running about 3 percent behind this year.
“According to GM, the Cruze had its best October retail sales ever. That pretty much means lower fleet deliveries,” said Tim Fleming, an analyst at Kelley Blue Book. “I’m not sure if that’s going to be an ongoing trend, but fleet orders are difficult to predict. I don’t think we were expecting any major turnaround for the Cruze last month. The fourth quarter has never been a strong season for small or compact cars — it’s usually a time for larger vehicles.”
Sales were up 16 percent across all of GM’s brands. The company said Friday that it sold 226,402 vehicles in October.
The Chevy Silverado, GM’s top-selling vehicle, posted a 10 percent increase to nearly 43,000, while the GMC Sierra pickup saw sales rise 13 percent to just over 16,500.
Toprak added that last month’s drop in Cruze sales also looks unusually steep because the model sold particularly well during October 2012. He said GM has provided few incentives, such as special financing, for the Cruze in recent months, while other models in the segment continue to provide stiff competition.
Similarly, sales of the redesigned 2014 Chevrolet Malibu shot up an impressive 63.5 percent last month, which Toprak said could have created some cannibalization for the brand’s other cars such as the Cruze.
Chrysler, Ford, Nissan, Toyota and Honda all posted October sales increases as the U.S. auto industry rebounded from a lackluster September when sales dropped 4 percent across the board.
Analysts say the 16-day government shutdown in early October kept buyers out of showrooms early in the month, but that apparently was just a temporary slowdown.
“It looks like the government shutdown ended just in the nick of time,” said Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst at auto website Edmunds.com. “Consumers started to get jittery by the middle of the month. But with the government back to work, most lost sales should be made up in the latter half of the month.”
Industry analysts predicted an 8 percent to 13 percent sales gain for October, with sales running at an annual rate of about 15.4 million for the month. But Chrysler said its calculations show a 15.7 million annual rate, one that would make October the fourth-best month of the year.
Chrysler Group LLC said it sold 140,083 cars and trucks last month, up from 126,185 in October of 2012. It was the company’s best October in six years, and its 43rd-straight month of year-over-year sales gains.
Ford Motor Co.’s U.S. sales jumped 14 percent last month on strong demand for the F-Series pickup and the Fusion sedan.
Nissan Motor Co.’s sales rose 14.2, Toyota sales were up nearly 9 percent and Honda sales increased by 7 percent.
Sales slid at KIA by 6.4 percent, and Volkswagen posted a decline of 18 percent.
Auto sales have consistently been a bright spot in the U.S. economy. Sales are closing in on pre-recession rates exceeding 16 million, far above the 2009 trough of 10.4 million.
The Associated Press contributed to this story