Sales increases continue for General Motors even as Toyota and Honda ramped up incentives to lure back customers lost when a 2011 tsunami in Japan cut their supplies.
The Lordstown-built Chevrolet Cruze and all small cars are expected to benefit this month from the high gas prices, said Jesse Toprak, vice president of market intelligence at TrueCar.com., an automotive information website.
August was the highest-selling month ever for the Cruze with 25,975 sold, according to GM. The Cruze ranked as the sixth-best-selling vehicle in the U.S. last month.
"Gas prices have continued their steady climb in September, fueling unseasonably high sales of smaller cars. On the other end of the spectrum, large trucks also performed well as small businesses have slowly started to come back to the marketplace," said Kristen Andersson, senior analyst at TrueCar.com.
"Typically in September, there are less small cars sold compared to August," Toprak said. "We've seen the exact opposite this year."
Another reason for the increase is there are a number of very good products being sold in the small-car segment, Toprak added.
Glenn Johnson, president of United Auto Workers 1112 in Lords-town, said that while he does not expect the official Cruze sales numbers for a few days, he expects the Cruze had a solid September.
"Any time gas is above $3.80 a gallon, small cars sell well," he said. "I know people who have big cars who are purchasing small ones just to get themselves back and forth to work."
TrueCar.com is forecasting that overall, GM will sell 212,284 vehicles this month, which is 2.5 percent more than September 2011. The company's sales are expected to be down by 11.7 percent compared with August, however.
Typically, the sales of new vehicles fall an average of 10 percent every year from August to September, he said. Year-to-year sales figures are more telling in terms of trends.
Sales throughout the industry are expected to increase by nearly 11 percent compared with September 2011, according to TrueCar. The three brands with the largest projected increases in sales are Toyota at 32.7 percent; Volkswagen with 31.4 percent; and Honda, 26.7 percent.
"The Japanese brands have been able to regain market share much faster than any of us thought they would be able to," Toprak said. "It shows that brand loyalty to them is stronger than we thought."
Honda and Toyota have been forced to increase their incentives to compete, while GM has been able to cut back on its own incentives, he added.
"Product is king, and right now when you drive onto a GM lot, you're seeing the best group of vehicles ever," Toprak said. "Even though the lack of big movements in car sales makes for less-attractive headlines, the stable growth in sales is a positive for the industry."
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