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Chrysler, Nissan and GM lead industry to 8 percent gain

Thu, 01 Sep 2011

UPDATED--Chrysler Group, Nissan North America and General Motors led the industry to an 8 percent U.S. sales gain in August.

The seasonally adjusted sales rate slipped to 12.13 million from July's 12.24 million as a stagnant economy, last week's U.S. hurricane and lingering vehicle shortages from the March earthquake in Japan took a toll.

"There is still a lot of pent-up demand," said Don Johnson, GM's vice president of U.S. sales operations. "Consumers are being cautious, but they are not out of the market. We think that will continue the rest of the year."

Chrysler Group, with a 28 percent rise, now has had increases of 20 percent or more in six of the year's first eight months. GM's 18 percent gain marked its biggest jump since April. Ford Motor Co. rose 11 percent.

Honda, Toyota troubles

American Honda plunged 24 percent and Toyota Motor sales fell 13 percent, as the companies continued to deal with vehicle shortages. Subaru, which has also been crimped by tight supplies, posted a 6 percent decline, its fourth straight monthly drop.

Nissan North America, which avoided much of the earthquake damage that hit its Japanese rivals, rose 19 percent and said things would have been better had it not been for Irene. Hyundai/Kia rose 16 percent, thanks to a 27 percent jump at Kia.

Analysts had said August, like the past few months, would fall short of the sales pace set at the start of the year. They cited a decline in consumer confidence and dimming prospects for strong economic growth. Hurricane Irene paralyzed most of the Eastern seaboard last weekend, leaving floods and power outages in its wake.

"There's no doubt the storm affected August auto sales, but for GM it was only about a thousand units and those can be recouped in September," GM's Johnson said during a conference call today.

Nissan estimated that the storm had cost it about 3,300 sales for its mainstream and Infiniti brands because of the company's relatively heavy exposure to sales in the Northeast.

"The economic news never impacted me during the month. What did impact me was losing the last weekend on the Eastern Seaboard," said Al Castignetti, who heads Nissan brand sales in the United States.

Storm damage

Paul Taylor, chief economist at the National Automobile Dealers Association, estimated the storm and its aftermath trimmed sales by 10 percent in the 10 states hit hardest by Irene. That translates into a 3 percent reduction in overall U.S. demand, he said.

GMC led GM brands with a 41 percent jump over August 2010. Chevrolet rose 16 percent and Buick was up 12 percent. Cadillac was up 4 percent after three consecutive monthly declines.

GM said the Chevrolet Cruze topped 20,000 sales for the fifth straight month. The new entry was helped by lingering shortages of small cars at Toyota and Honda.

Jeep climbs

Chrysler continued to benefit from the performance of its Jeep brand, which was up 58 percent in August and is up 50 percent for the year. Chrysler ran a no-payments-for-90-days promotion for some buyers of 2011 and 2012 Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram models during the month.

Ford-brand sales rose 16 percent. Lincoln, up 25 percent, jumped for the third straight month following six straight months of decline.

The automaker also said Thursday that it has scheduled a 9 percent rise in North American production for the fourth quarter from year-earlier levels. Output through July was up 12 percent.

Prior to Thursday's reports, August sales were projected to run at a 12.1 million seasonally adjusted annual rate, according to the average estimate of 14 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. The pace averaged above 13 million through April of this year and dropped below 12 million in May and June before rising to July's 12.24 million.

By Dave Versical- Automotive News