September was another strong month for U.S. car sales, with General Motors (GM) turning in an exceptionally strong performance. Among manufacturers, GM logged the most September sales, followed by Ford and Toyota, according to Kelley Blue Book(KBB).
In a possible sign that the economy continues to recover, full-sized pick-ups also had another strong month. Mid-sized cars led September sales with 14.2% of the market but pick-ups were a close second, at 13.9%. Truck sales were up 19% year over year.
“The market continues to embrace trucks and SUVs at every price point, with premium brands also benefiting from a combination of fresh product and readily available credit,” said Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at KBB.
And it wasn't just full-sized pick-ups driving off the lot. Sales of compact trucks also put in a strong showing.
Riding the wave
“Nissan Frontier is riding that wave, said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst, AutoTrader.com. “The upward trend of small trucks may be due to an overall strengthening of the overall truck market – the last quarter of the year always is the strongest for trucks – and the anticipation of new entries from General Motors – the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon.”
Brauer notes that September's sales are all the more impressive because Labor Day Weekend sales counted in August this year. GM's solid September was helped by Chevrolet's 12.4% market share.
However, Chevy was second to Ford, which claimed 13.9% of the market last month. Toyota was third at 11.4%.
Honda and Nissan round out the top 5 with 8.5% and 7.7% respectively.
Mark Strand, an analyst for AutoTrader.com, says the new car market is benefiting from some economic tailwinds.
“We see a slowly improving economy with stability in the job market, and consumer confidence moving upward to the highest levels since the last recession,” he said. “Additionally, gas prices have been stable for an extended period and actually have been declining since the summer, all of which makes consumers feel better in general and particularly about driving a larger vehicle.”
Gasoline prices may be spurring the economy in areas other than auto sales. The national average price of self serve regular has fallen to $3.30 a gallon, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Survey, and is actually below $3 in some states. While the national average is down sharply from last month it is roughly in line with prices a year ago.
Strand says another factor helping consumers purchase new vehicles is cheap financing – and the greater availability of subprime financing, which some may see as potentially problematic.
While sales continue to rise, consumers continue to spend more on new cars. KBB reports the average transaction price for a new vehicle in September was $32,500. That's up $56 from August and $133 from September 2013.