Toyota Motor Corp. (TM), Honda Motor Co. (7267) and Nissan Motor Co. (7201), Japan’s Big Three carmakers, all reported U.S. sales declines in September with tight supplies of some models after August’s surge and fewer weekend selling days.
Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, posted a 4.3 percent decrease last month, and Nissan’s sales fell 5.5 percent, bigger declines than analysts expected. Honda, most reliant on the U.S. among Japan’s automakers, had a 9.9 percent sales drop that topped analysts’ estimates. Only Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. (7270)’s Subaru among Asian auto brands expanded sales, reporting a 15 percent increase for September compared with a year earlier.
“A big factor was that Labor Day weekend sales were pulled ahead into August,” said Bill Visnic, senior industry analyst for Edmunds.com. “For Toyota and Honda, their supplies looked a little tight. Honda may have had a particular problem in that it was less prepared for consumers to return to light trucks.”
Toyota fell 1 percent to close at 6,210 yen in Tokyo trading, Nissan dropped 1 percent and Honda declined 1.5 percent as the Nikkei 225 Stock Average slipped 2.2 percent.
September looks like a lull for auto sales that remain on pace for the best volume since 2007. Deliveries for the first two days of September, including the Labor Day holiday, didn’t contribute to automakers’ tallies as they were counted in August figures. Industrywide sales slipped 4.2 percent in September, the first decline in 27 months, according to Autodata Corp.
Deliveries of new cars and light trucks slid to 1.14 million, in line with the average of 10 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. The annualized industry sales rate, adjusted for seasonal trends, climbed to 15.3 million, according to Autodata, missing the 15.4 million average of 16 estimates.
Combined sales for Japanese and Korean brands dropped 7.2 percent, cutting their market share to 44.6 percent from 46.1 percent a year ago. Toyota, which outsold Ford Motor Co. (F) in July and August, fell back to third in the U.S., while Honda fell to fifth in volume after topping Chrysler Group LLC in July and August.
“I don’t think there’s anything in this month that looks to me like an inflection point for anybody,” Kevin Tynan, auto analyst for Bloomberg Industries, said yesterday in an interview. “It’s explainable. I don’t think anybody is thinking about tapping on the brakes at this point.”
Toyota sold 164,457 Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles last month, compared with 171,910 a year ago. The company’s 4.3 percent drop compared with an expected 2.5 percent decline, the average of seven analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.
Toyota’s Camry remained the best-selling U.S. car with sales of 31,871, down 7 percent from a year ago. The company’s new Corolla helped the small car line eke out an increase and top Honda’s Civic, the best-selling compact this year.
“September was the first full month for the new Corolla and it’s off to a great start,” Bill Fay, U.S. group vice president of Toyota brand sales, said yesterday on a conference call. “A little more than half” of September’s Corolla sales were of the new version, he said.
Sales of Toyota’s Prius hybrid line were the second-lowest of the year, down 16 percent to 15,890, the company said. Supplies of the main hatchback version of the car were in particularly tight supply, Fay said.
Gains for the company in the final quarter of 2013 will come from the new Corolla and a revamped Tundra large pickup truck, Fay said.
“If anything, we were probably a little bit light in the new products we were launching,” he said. “We really weren’t in a position to get new Corolla inventory levels or our new Tundra at the inventory level we like. We’re still trying to get RAV4 up to an acceptable level.”
Toyota’s market share was 14.4 percent in September, down from 14.5 percent a year ago, according to Autodata.
Honda’s sales of 105,563 Honda and Acura vehicles were about 10 percent below last year’s volume. The Tokyo-based carmaker was expected to report a dip of just 0.6 percent, the average of seven analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.
While the company boosted Civic sales 6.7 percent, Accord deliveries dropped 14 percent. In particular, there was a shortage of Odyssey minivans and Acura MDX sport-utility vehicles, said Chuck Schifsky, a company spokesman.
“In the case of Accord, we don’t see any sign of demand being down,” said Jack Nerad, an industry analyst for Kelley Blue Book in Irvine, California. “It was really more of a mix issue. They probably burned through a lot of cars in August and were light during the changeover to the 2014 model.”
The sales drop for the month cut Honda’s U.S. market share to 9.3 percent from 9.9 percent a year ago, according to Autodata.
Nissan, based in Yokohama, Japan, reported sales of 86,868 Nissan and Infiniti brand autos, down from 91,907 a year ago. The carmaker was expected to report a 4.8 percent decline, the average of seven analysts’ estimates.
The Altima sedan, a Camry competitor, posted a 13 percent drop in September. The all-electric Leaf hatchback, a slow seller in previous years, was a bright spot last month. Sales of the battery-powered small car jumped 99 percent from a year ago to 1,953, keeping Nissan on track to deliver about 21,000 this year. That’s more than its combined U.S. sales from 2010 through 2012.
The decline in September sales doesn’t indicate a weakening of consumer demand, said Fred Diaz, vice president of Nissan’s North American sales. “Net-net, sales are still very strong.”
The U.S. government shutdown that began yesterday as a result of a budget squabble is a potential challenge, Diaz said. “Who knows what this shutdown is going to do to consumer confidence?”
Among smaller brands, Mazda Motor Corp. (7261)’s sales fell 6.9 percent.
Separately, Seoul-based Hyundai, noting the furlough of federal workers due to the shutdown, said it would allow affected government employees to defer auto loan and lease payments while the situation continues.
“We recognize the impact on family budgets that the furlough will drive,” John Krafcik, president and chief executive officer of Hyundai’s U.S. sales unit, said in a statement.
Toyota, for its part, doesn’t anticipate much harm to the industry. “We hope and expect the government shutdown to be short and have minimal impact on the industry,” Fay said.
For the three largest Japanese automakers, the sales drop last month in the U.S. was a contrast to their home market, where total vehicle sales in September rose the most in 14 months, adding to signs of an improving outlook in the world’s third-largest economy.
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