Domestic automakers reported surprisingly strong August sales results for the United States on Tuesday, defying analysts’ expectations of losses in a month that had turmoil in the stock markets and an unusual calendar quirk that had been expected to depress business.
Fiat Chrysler and Ford reported unexpected gains, while General Motors fell slightly but avoided a larger loss that analysts had predicted.
Ford reported that sales increased 5 percent for the month, compared with the period a year ago, and posted its best August for sport utility vehicle sales in 12 years — led by vehicles such as the Explorer and Edge.
Perhaps most important for the company, its flagship F-150 pickup, recently redesigned with a mostly aluminum body, also performed well. More than 70,000 F-Series trucks were sold in August, a 5 percent increase. Ford’s Claycomo plant builds the F-150, along with a plant in Michigan.
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“It looks like Ford may be getting some of its groove back by finally getting the F-Series out there,” said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for AutoTrader.
One reason that analysts had predicted a tougher month for auto sales is that Labor Day weekend, traditionally a popular time for car shoppers to hit dealers’ lots, falls later than usual. That means Labor Day weekend, which last year was included in August sales numbers, will this year be counted in September instead.
But the industry, particularly the Detroit Three and their truck-heavy lineups, defied the conventional wisdom once again.
“In almost every case, companies did better than we anticipated,” Krebs said. “Even ones that were down, they weren’t down as much as we thought they would be.”
Mark LaNeve, Ford’s vice president for American marketing, said improved availability of the new pickup trucks, which increased production in recent months, helped make August the strongest month this year for F-Series sales.
Ford’s SUVs also did well, with the Explorer up 22 percent and the full-size Expedition increasing 30 percent for the month. Most of Ford’s sedans, however, with the exception of the new Mustang (up 70 percent) and the Fiesta (up 5 percent), struggled in August. The Focus was down 26 percent, the Taurus fell 22 percent and the Fusion dropped 4 percent.
Fiat Chrysler posted a 2 percent gain despite analysts’ predictions of a loss, allowing the company to continue a streak to 65 consecutive months of year-over-year gains, which many had thought was finally poised to end. Jeep sales once again powered the performance, with sales up 18 percent, and the Ram brand rose 6 percent.
Eight of Fiat Chrysler’s vehicles set monthly sales records in August: the Jeep Compass, Cherokee, Wrangler and Patriot, the Ram pickup and ProMaster van, and Dodge’s Challenger and Journey.
General Motors’ sales fell 0.7 percent — a smaller loss than analysts had expected. GM’s pickup trucks in particular helped the company’s August performance, with Chevrolet Silverado sales up 12 percent and the GMC Sierra up 7 percent.
GM’s Fairfax plant in Kansas City, Kan., is home to the Buick LaCrosse and the Chevrolet Malibu.
The company’s GMC division led the way with a 4 percent overall gain in August, powered almost entirely by growth in sales of the Sierra and the Acadia SUV. Other models such as the full-size Yukon SUV fell 5 percent, and its even larger sibling, the Yukon XL, dropped 35 percent.
Buick landed flat in August, up 0.6 percent, which was a tale of its cars and SUVs pulling in nearly opposite directions. The Encore and Enclave SUVs were up 30 and 27 percent. The Regal and Verano sedans were down 23 and 48 percent.
Also, Toyota sales fell 9 percent in August, Honda was down 7 percent and Volkswagen brand vehicles were down 8 percent. Nissan squeaked out a 1 percent increase for the month.