October U.S. Auto Sales Top Estimates as Incentives Jump 14%

Updated on
  • Ford raised discounts 20%, Autodata says; its sales slid 12%
  • Industry sales rate was 18.02 million, most in almost a year

U.S. Auto Sales Slowed in October

U.S. auto sales in October hit the highest annual selling rate in almost a year, fueled by a 14 percent boost in the discounts it took to coax car buyers into showrooms.

The annual selling rate, adjusted for the season, was 18.02 million vehicles in October, the first month to top 18 million since last November, researcher Autodata said. While sales fell from a strong year-earlier month, the pace beat the 17.7 million average estimate in a Bloomberg survey. Autodata firmed up its analysis today after Ford Motor Co. reported a 12 percent light-vehicle sales decline.

Ford led the discounting in October among the largest automakers as the companies dialed up incentives in a market where growth has slowed, albeit with sales at a high level. Average incentives rose 14 percent from a year earlier to $3,533 a vehicle while Ford’s jumped 20 percent to $4,060, Autodata said. Even so, industrywide sales fell 5.8 percent and Ford had across-the-board declines for its car, sport utility and truck categories.

“It’s taking more money to push sales,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst with Cox Automotive’s Autotrader. “October proved to be yet another challenging month for Ford. One wonders where the bottom is for Ford cars, in particular.”

Ford’s car sales plunged 28 percent. The second-largest U.S. automaker’s report was a day late because a fire at its Dearborn, Michigan, headquarters Monday made it impossible for dealers to file month-end results on time.

Ford disagrees with Autodata’s analysis of its incentives. Erich Merkle, the company’s sales analyst, said Ford boosted incentives by less than the industry average last month, rising 4 percent to $4,300 a vehicle. And compared to September, incentive spending fell $570 per vehicle, he said. Ford said average transaction prices rose $1,600 a vehicle, more than double the industry average, on the strength of the new aluminum-bodied Super Duty pickup.

Ford shares slid 1.8 percent to $11.40 at the close in New York.

This year through October, automakers sold 14.48 million cars and light trucks, down 0.2 percent from a year earlier. That marks the first time since January that year-to-date sales fell below the comparable 2015 level. The annual sales pace in October 2015 was 18.2 million, the best for last year.

General Motors Co., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and most other large automakers reported sales declines for October on Tuesday. The only gain among the largest companies came from the combined sales of Korean affiliates Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp., where sales rose 1.3 percent instead of the estimated 4.8 percent drop. Hyundai boosted its incentives 19 percent while Kia’s increased 6.5 percent, according to Autodata.

(Updates with Ford share price in the seventh paragraph.)
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