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October auto sales down: 5 things that can be learned from numbers

November 4, 2016
Sales of new cars and trucks fell about 6.7 percent in October even though the overall health of the industry remains strong.
How can both things be true?
"First, October of 2015 was one of the highest sales months in the history of the industry, so being ‘down’ compared to last year was almost inevitable," said Karl Brauer, a senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book. "Second, there were two fewer selling days in October 2016 versus 2015, along with an East Coast hurricane impacting sales in that region."
In fact, industry analysts predict that the industry remains on track to sell about 17.4 million new cars and trucks this year — a number that would be the second most in the history of the U.S. auto industry.
So, with that in mind, here are five things that have stood out so far as individual automakers reported:
Honda sold nearly 5,000 more trucks than cars. Say what? Yes, Honda sold 65,569 "trucks" in October compared with 60,592 cars. Here, the catch-all industry lingo for "trucks" is used, which includes SUVs and vehicles such as the Honda Ridgeline, Pilot and CRV and even the Odyssey minivan.
Still, we’re talking about Honda, the brand best known for the Civic and Accord passenger cars. Honda’s ratio of trucks to cars is yet another piece of data that shows how much consumer preferences have changed from cars to crossovers and SUVs.
FCA is charging ahead with Ram. Sales of the Ram brand increased 12 percent in October, making it one of the few bright spots for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
FCA’s truck brand was the only brand that reported a U.S. sales gain in October. Ram’s strong performance was expected, but still revealing.
Ram’s October sales gain comes on the heels of Ram outselling Silverado for the first time in at least five years. Ram achieved that feat in September with big incentives that topped $7,000. FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne said last month the automaker planned to continue to keep pressure on the industry with Ram incentives.
The automaker is currently offering up to 20 percent off some Ram 1500 models. Ram was unable to top Silverado in October. FCA sold 43,891 Ram pickups, or 7 percent more than the same month last year.
Big, full-size SUVs help GM. Chevrolet’s Suburban, Tahoe and Yukon helped to power GM to better-than-expected results. Sales of those big, body-on-frame brutes increased 85 percent, 81 percent and 61 percent respectively.
Meanwhile, at Buick, sales of the Encore rose 8 percent and the brand sold more than 2,300 new Envision SUVs while sales of all of Buick’s cars fell.
GM’s U.S. sales fell 1.7 percent in October, less than the approximate 6.7 percent decline for the industry.
"GM sales exceeded analysts’ forecasts across the board, and Chevrolet’s strong retail sales is a promising sign of healthy profits," said Rebecca Lindland, also with Kelley Blue Book. "Large pickup truck sales continue to be soft, but large SUVs provide a mitigating cushion."
The fallout from Volkswagen’s diesel gate scandal continues. Volkswagen Group’s namesake brand continued its prolonged sales slump as the company tries to overcome a diesel emissions scandal and an outdated product lineup that have kept shoppers away from the showroom. VW brand sales reversed 18.5 percent to 24,779 units.
"Volkswagen has to reinvent itself," said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for "It was the diesel brand. What is it going to be now?"
Still steering clear of the danger zone. The pace of auto industry sales continues to keep the auto industry hovering above the danger zone. Average industry incentives are increasing, and are at record highs, but the average transaction prices of new cars and trucks also are at record levels.
GM’s average transaction price in October was $36,155, or $1,000 more than a year ago.
Kelley Blue Book reported the average purchase price for a new vehicle in October was about $34,663 — a 2.3 percent annual increase.