DETROIT – Automakers expect little fallout from the federal government shutdown, and they predict a fourth-quarter rebound after a rare sales decline in September.
Auto sales dropped 4 percent from a year ago to just over 1.1 million, mainly because of a calendar quirk that pulled Labor Day weekend transactions into Augusts numbers. The drop ended a 27-month streak of gains for the industry.
General Motors, Honda and Volkswagen reported double-digit declines for last month. Toyota, Nissan and Hyundai posted smaller decreases. Only Ford and Chrysler reported gains among the bigger automakers.
GMs 11 percent drop was the first since July of last year for the automaker, which has an Allen County truck assembly plant. It allowed Ford to get within 2,049 vehicles of unseating GM as the top U.S. automaker for the first time since May 2011.
Most industry officials viewed September as an anomaly. They also downplayed the effect of the government shutdown, assuming its a short one.
Kurt McNeil, GMs U.S. sales chief, said the fundamentals are still in place for GM and the industry to rebound in coming months. Jobless claims are falling, home prices continue to recover, gas prices are down, household wealth is rising and the Federal Reserve has postponed the end of a bond-buying program that kept interest rates low, he said.
As long as the underlying economic factors are supporting the business, which we believe they will through the end of this year and into 2014, well get through this turbulence, said Ken Czubay, Fords U.S. sales manager.
There was concern among executives and analysts that a long shutdown – and a looming confrontation over raising the governments debt ceiling – could eventually cause sales to fall. McNeil said anything over two weeks could cut into consumer confidence.
Consumers dont like to make big-ticket item purchases when theres a lot of uncertainty in the economy, said Jesse Toprak, senior analyst for the TrueCar.com auto pricing site.
One reason GMs sales fell last month was a slip in pickup trucks, which have been hot-sellers. Sales of GMs full-sized pickups, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, fell 8 percent even though the company is selling redesigned trucks.