Data on unit sales of motor vehicles (light vehicles which include all passenger cars and light trucks up to 14,000 pounds gross weight) are published monthly by Autodata Corporation. Motor vehicle sales are a good indicator of trends in overall consumer spending and often are considered a leading indicator at business cycle turning points. In addition, automobile production and the output of related companies like service stations, repair shops and aftermarket parts manufacturers (including supplier and induced impacts) make up over 10 percent of total economic output.
According to Autodata, after increasing 1.8 percent in August to an annual rate of 16.1 million vehicles, sales fell 5.1 percent in September, to just 15.3 million annualized sales. This is still up 3.4 percent on a year ago basis.
On a month over month basis, sales were off for most brands including an 11.0 percent decrease for General Motors, and significant decreases for Kia (off 21.0 percent), Volvo (down 15.9 percent) and Toyota which lost 4.3 percent of sales. Both Ford and Chrysler posted sales gains with Ford up by 5.7 percent on significant growth in both car and truck sales. In fact, Ford is continuing to make significant gains on GM, with sales figures for 2012 currently at 89 percent of its rivals as opposed to 85 percent last year. The third largest automaker, Toyota, is holding steady with Ford, with a market share just 7 percent below the second largest automaker.
Motor vehicles were one of the industry categories that led the last recession, falling from an annualized rate of about 12 million units prior to the recession to a low of about 7 million units. Since that time, growth has boomed reflecting the need to replace older vehicles, and a push toward safer more fuel efficient models. Sales in August were at the highest level since 2007, suggesting that even with the declines in September the automobile industry remains fairly healthy. This should continue to bode well for supplier firms in industries such as steel and aluminum, automotive parts and electrical systems.