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September sales hint at improvement

Tue, 04 Oct 2011

A 10 percent increase in new-vehicle sales in September is sparking optimism that the year will have a strong finish. And analysts say that deals might get better over the next few months as Toyota and Honda finally recover from shortages caused by the earthquake that hit Japan in March. Those brands might increase spending on incentives to woo buyers back into their showrooms.

Overall, carmakers sold nearly 1.1 million vehicles in September, up 10 percent from a year earlier. For the year to date, sales are also up 10 percent.

The biggest gains in September were posted by Ram, Mazda, Chrysler, Volkswagen and Nissan. Chrysler and General Motors sales rose 50 percent and 19 percent, respectively, largely on strong demand for pickups. Ford sales climbed 9 percent.

For the year so far, the winners are Mitsubishi, Jeep, Saab, Kia and Porsche. Losers (apart from Honda and Toyota) are Saab, Mini and Lexus.

Sales of the redesigned Passat and Jetta helped push VW's September sales up 36 percent. That's the biggest VW increase so far this year, and it's the 13th straight month of rising numbers for the brand.

Shortages from Japan's earthquake are still hurting Toyota and Honda, but both have begun restocking dealership inventories. Toyota says increased production should be reflected in sales numbers in the coming months. But the company downplayed the use of incentives.

“There's no silver bullet in terms of getting sales back,” Toyota spokesman Mike Michels said. “We need supply, good value and to market aggressively.”

Nearly a month after Toyota's U.S. assembly plants resumed normal output, dealer inventory was still down about 40 percent, Michels said.

Toyota sales are down 9 percent so far this year. Sales in September were off 18 percent from a year earlier.

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