Nissan Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. (000270) led U.S. sales gains for Asia-based auto brands in August as Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) and Honda Motor Co. continued to battle tight supplies months after Japan’s earthquake.
Nissan’s sales rose 19 percent from a year earlier, topping analysts’ estimates, and Kia’s gained 27 percent, according to company statements yesterday. Toyota, Asia’s largest carmaker, said deliveries dropped 13 percent, while Honda posted a decline of 24 percent. Industrywide U.S. sales grew 7.5 percent.
“Nissan had the advantage of having more cars on the ground earlier in the year when the tsunami hit and less damage from the earthquake,” said Jesse Toprak, an analyst at TrueCar.com, a Santa Monica, California-based provider of auto prices and data. “That’s combined with bigger incentive spending.”
More than five months after the magnitude-9 quake, U.S. dealers still have limited supplies of Toyota’s Prius hybrid and Honda’s Civic small car as the carmakers grapple with parts and power shortages in Japan. Toyota’s North American plants were back at full production in August, and Honda said all its factories in the region are now operating at pre-quake levels.
“Shipments of finished autos are coming in at about 50 percent of the rate they were before the quake,” Richard Steinke, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, said in an interview yesterday. “The pace is definitely picking up.”
Total U.S. sales of new cars and light trucks increased to 1.07 million last month from 997,467 a year earlier, according to Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey-based Autodata Corp.
Toyota’s American depositary receipts, representing two ordinary shares, fell 67 cents to $71.17 yesterday in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Honda’s ADRs rose 35 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $32.82 in New York.
Nissan offered incentives valued at an average of $2,900 a vehicle in August, compared with about $2,100 for Honda and $2,400 for Toyota, Toprak said.
The declines for Toyota and Honda led to a 2.4 percent drop in sales for Asia-based carmakers, while U.S.-based brands rose 18 percent. Sales gained 18 percent for General Motors Co. (GM), 11 percent for Ford Motor Co. (F) and 31 percent for Chrysler Group LLC, which is majority owned by Fiat SpA. (F)
Toyota reported sales of 129,483 Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles, falling from 148,388 a year earlier. The drop was more than the 11 percent average of four analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg.
“The story is getting better for us in terms of availability,” Jeff Bracken, U.S. vice president for Toyota- brand sales, said on a conference call. The company is also releasing its revamped Camry sedan in mid-September, about two years earlier than planned, to accelerate sales, he said.
Production at Toyota’s North American plants will exceed the company’s initial target for this year’s second half, said Randy Pflughaupt, the Toyota City, Japan-based automaker’s U.S. group vice president, on the call.
Toyota’s August market share fell to 12.1 percent from 14.9 percent a year earlier, according to Autodata.
Honda, the Japanese automaker that relies most on U.S. sales, said deliveries of Honda and Acura vehicles fell to 82,321 from 108,729, its fourth straight month with a decline greater than 20 percent. The drop was narrower than the 25 percent average estimate of four analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.
“A greater selection of vehicles is beginning to arrive at dealers this month as the company continues to recover from temporary supply disruptions,” John Mendel, Honda’s U.S. executive vice president, said in statement.
The Tokyo-based automaker’s sales have been crimped by a continuing shortage of its revamped Civic because of quake- related parts disruptions.
“It looks like the worst is behind them,” said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst at Santa Monica, California-based Edmunds.com. “The fall months should allow them to capture waiting consumers who have not defected to other brands.”
Honda’s market share for last month shrank to 7.7 percent from 10.9 percent, Autodata said.
Nissan, Japan’s second-biggest automaker, sold 91,541 Nissan and Infiniti vehicles last month, rising from 76,827 a year earlier. Deliveries for the Yokohama-based company were expected to rise 18 percent, the average of four estimates.
August sales might have been even stronger had it not been for Hurricane Irene, which hit the East Coast in the month’s final weekend.
“About 3,000 units were left on the table last month because of the storm,” Al Castignetti, Nissan’s vice president of U.S. sales, said in a phone interview. “We would have ripped the cover off the ball if we’d had that momentum going into the last weekend.”
The hurricane, which killed at least 40 people and ravaged the coast from North Carolina to Maine, interfered with auto sales in states that represent about 30 percent of total U.S. deliveries, said Paul Taylor, chief economist at the National Automobile Dealers Association.
Nissan’s August market share gained 0.8 percentage point to 8.5 percent, according to Autodata.
Hyundai Motor Co. (005380), South Korea’s largest automaker, sold 58,505 vehicles in the U.S., a 9.1 percent increase from 53,603 a year earlier. The gains were led by its revamped Accent small car and Santa Fe sport-utility vehicle.
Kia, a Hyundai affiliate, sold 41,188 vehicles, up from 32,465. The increase was led by the Optima sedan and Sorento SUV.
Combined sales for the two Seoul-based partners, which operate separately in the U.S., totaled 99,693, behind only GM, Ford, Chrysler and Toyota for the month.
While Hyundai and Kia continue to gain in the U.S., their growth pace is slowing, said Edmunds.com’s Caldwell.
“The opportunity for Korean automakers to capture market share is closing as the Japanese companies are on their way back,” she said. “The real test to see if Korean automaker market share will hold up will be when new products like Camry arrive and Civic has less constraints on production.”
Sales for Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. (7270)’s Subaru, a Toyota affiliate, fell 6.3 percent, while Mazda Motor Corp. (7261) reported a 15 percent increase. Among smaller brands, Mitsubishi Motors Corp. (7211) raised sales 86 percent and Suzuki Motor Corp. (7269) had a 32 percent increase in deliveries.
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