Toyota Motor Corp. posted its largest U.S. sales increase in five months and Hyundai Motor Co. led gains for Asia-based brands as September auto demand grew at the fastest rate since 2009’s “cash for clunkers” program.
Toyota, the world’s biggest automaker, reported a 17 percent increase, while Hyundai jumped 48 percent. Sales for Honda Motor Co., Japan’s second-largest carmaker, climbed 26 percent and Nissan Motor Co. increased 34 percent. Japanese and Korean brands raised sales a combined 27 percent, trailing a 33 percent gain for U.S. competitors and industrywide growth of 28.5 percent.
“Sales in fact were so strong during Labor Day, it felt like 2006 again,” Bob Carter, group vice president of Toyota’s U.S. sales, said yesterday on a conference call.
Monthly deliveries ran at an annual rate of 11.8 million, according to researcher Autodata Corp., based in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. September’s stronger pace, up from 9.4 million a year earlier, is a sign the car market and broader economy may have bottomed out, said Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends for Santa Monica, California-based TrueCar.com.
“This is another step in a healthy but rather slow recovery,” Toprak said in an interview. “There were no outside forces at play, like government programs or crazy incentives, just the marketplace trying to recover on its own.”
U.S. market share for Asian brands was 46.1 percent last month, down from 46.5 percent a year earlier, according to Autodata. U.S.-based competitors raised their share to 45.2 percent, led by Ford Motor Co.’s 46 percent increase and Chrysler LLC’s 61 percent. General Motors Co.’s sales rose 11 percent.
Industrywide deliveries in September were expected to reach an 11.7 million rate, the average of nine analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. In August 2009, the pace was 14.2 million, aided by the federal subsidy for fuel-efficient models.
Toyota sold 147,162 Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles, up from 126,015 a year ago. The Toyota City, Japan-based company’s increase in September was its biggest since April.
Gains came from higher sales of RAV4 and Highlander sport- utility vehicles, Sienna minivans, Prius hybrids and Tacoma pickup trucks, the company said.
While Toyota is “really having difficulty” in full-size trucks with its Tundra pickup, the smaller Tacoma model will benefit since Ford is pulling its Ranger model out of the U.S. compact pickup segment, Toprak said.
“Tacoma now has a distinct advantage,” he said. “This is a brand that Toyota really needs to invest more in for future growth.”
Tacoma holds about 45 percent of the market for small pickups in the U.S., and Toyota aims to boost output of the model after shifting production to its San Antonio plant in July, Carter said.
Toyota’s sales gains weren’t enough to increase its market share for the month since the overall industry grew at a faster rate. The company’s share was 15.3 percent, down from 16.9 percent a year ago, according to Autodata.
Toyota’s American depositary receipts, equal to two ordinary shares, rose 22 cents to $71.80 yesterday in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. They’ve fallen 15 percent this year.
Honda, based in Tokyo, said it sold 97,361 Honda and Acura autos last month, compared with 77,229 a year ago. The company benefited from higher sales of CR-V and Pilot SUVs, Civic small cars and the new CR-Z hybrid coupe.
Still, “Honda posted their third-lowest sales figures this year, and we don’t expect much improvement until the new Odyssey and Civic models arrive at showrooms,” said Ivan Drury, an analyst with Edmunds.com in Santa Monica. “The niche CR-Z picked up a bit, but with expectations of selling only 20,000 units annually, this can’t move the needle much.”
Honda’s market share was 10.2 percent, down from 10.4 percent a year ago, Autodata said.
Honda’s ADRs rose 40 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $35.99 yesterday. They’re up 6.2 percent this year.
Nissan, Japan’s third-largest automaker, sold 74,205 Nissan and Infiniti vehicles last month, up from 55,393 a year ago, Al Castignetti, vice president of U.S. sales, said in an interview. Car sales expanded 36 percent, led by a 65 percent jump for Altima sedans, he said.
“This year has been a bit a bit of a roller-coaster ride,” Castignetti said. Sales should keep improving for the rest of 2010, particularly as light-truck demand remains strong, he said.
Given the comparison with September 2009, when sales plunged following the end of U.S. “cash for clunkers” rebates, “this was an easy month and the reverse of August,” he said.
Market share for Yokohama-based Nissan rose 0.3 percentage point to 7.7 percent.
Hyundai, South Korea’s largest automaker, said it boosted sales to 46,556 units in September, a record for the month. The Seoul-based company cited increased deliveries of Sonata sedans, Tucson SUVs and Genesis luxury cars.
Retail sales to individual drivers, excluding those to rental companies and business fleets, surged 73 percent, Hyundai’s U.S. unit said.
“Sonata continues to climb the ranks within the midsize car category, coming in at third place behind Camry and Accord,” Edmunds.com’s Drury said. “Gains in this highly visible category of midsize cars speak volumes about consumer perception of the brand and allow future Hyundai releases to piggyback on the success of the Sonata.”
Kia Motors Corp., Hyundai’s Seoul-based affiliate, sold 30,071 autos, up 39 percent from a year earlier. Sales for Subaru, the auto brand of Toyota-affiliated Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., jumped 47 percent, and Hiroshima, Japan-based Mazda Motor Corp. said its volume rose 30 percent.
Among smaller Asia-based brands, Mitsubishi Motors Corp.’s sales grew 5 percent and Suzuki Motor Corp. fell 12 percent.