GM, Ford suffer from low pickup sales in September

General Motors says it's trying to keep truck inventories low as it focuses on new vehicles like the 2013 Chevy Spark, above.
General Motors says it's trying to keep truck inventories low as it focuses on new vehicles like the 2013 Chevy Spark, above. ASSOCIATED PRESS

DETROIT — General Motors and Ford both reported flat vehicle sales in September because of slowing demand for pickups and increased competition from Japanese and German carmakers.

GM said Tuesday that its overall sales grew by 1.5 percent during September, in what the company said were its best results for the month since 2008.

But sales of the company's pickups, which are big profit producers, dropped by 20 percent during September. GM attributed the decrease partly to a reduction in sales to rental fleets.

A GM executive said the automaker was trying to keep truck inventories low as it continued to focus on introducing new cars like the Chevrolet Spark.

"Passenger cars have been the launch point for a broad and deep GM product offensive," said Kurt McNeil, vice president of U.S. sales.

GM has lagged the comeback in domestic auto sales this year, reporting a 3.2 percent increase in the first nine months compared with about 14 percent for the overall market.

Ford's total sales for the month were down 0.1 percent. Truck sales dropped 7.6 percent, wiping out gains made by new cars and SUVs, like the Ford Fusion and Escape.

Ford said it sold 174,000 vehicles during the month, with its best results in small cars, up 73 percent.

"Fuel economy remains one of the most important features customers want today," said Ken Czubay, Ford's head of U.S. marketing, sales and service.

Sales of the company's top seller, the F-series pickup, grew by just 1.2 percent during September, and sales of its Lincoln luxury brand fell 3.1 percent.

While GM and Ford struggled, Chrysler continued its steady comeback from very weak sales after its government bailout and bankruptcy in 2009.

Chrysler said September sales increased 12 percent from the same period a year ago, for its 30th consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains.

The company benefited from the introduction of its Dodge Dart compact sedan, the first 40-mpg small car Chrysler has produced since it was acquired by Italian automaker Fiat. Chrysler also outperformed its Detroit rivals in pickups with a 4 percent increase in sales of Ram pickups.

Chrysler's top domestic sales executive, Reid Bigland, said the industry's recovery appeared to be gaining steam in the latter part of the year.

"Going forward with our current product lineup, record low interest rates and a stable U.S. economy, we remain optimistic about the health of the U.S. new-vehicle sales industry and our position in it," Bigland said.

One of the hottest manufacturers during the month continued to be Volkswagen. The German carmaker, which is already expanding its new assembly plant in Tennessee, said it sold 36,000 Volkswagens in September, a 34.4 percent increase from a year ago.

Meanwhile, sales at Japan's largest automakers improved.

Toyota sales surged nearly 42 percent, better than the 36 percent gain that was the average estimate of eight analysts.