September automotive sales up, allaying fears of recession

DETROIT ― Major automakers posted double-digit percentage U.S. sales gains for September in a rebound that General Motors Co. said showed the economy was likely to steer clear of a double-dip recession.

Among the Detroit automakers, GM sales rose 20 percent, while Ford’s rose 9 percent and Chrysler Group was up 27 percent. Nissan Motor Co saw a sales gain of 25 percent and Volkswagen AG posted a sales increase of 36 percent.

The initial sales reports put industrywide sales on track to near 13 million vehicles on an annualized basis, at the high end of the range of analysts’ forecasts.

That would represent the strongest sales pace since April and an increase of roughly 10 percent from the sales rate of September 2010.

Last month’s auto sales were bolstered by increased inventory levels for Japanese automakers that had been depleted through the summer, by steady gasoline prices and a trickle back of demand from customers looking to replace aging vehicles, executives and analysts said.

GM sales chief Don Johnson said the September auto sales and other recent economic data “all point to a slow growth scenario but not a double dip.”

GM kept its forecast for industrywide auto sales unchanged and said it expected to see increasing sales in October through December.

The top U.S. automaker forecasts overall U.S. vehicle sales of at least 13 million, including medium and heavy duty trucks. That would be up from the sales rate of 12.8 million on that basis in the year to date.

In another indicator of economic resilience, U.S. factory activity expanded at a faster pace than expected in September, the Institute for Supply Management said on Monday.VW America Chief Executive Jonathan Browning said the September sales results pointed to a moderate increase in U.S. auto sales through the remainder of the year.

“It’s hard to give a very simple summary because a lot of people are anxious about the future and you see that in the consumer sentiment, consumer confidence surveys, but at the same time many people are recognizing that this is a good time to buy,” he said.

U.S. auto sales represent one of the earliest snapshots of consumer demand.

GM shares were up 1 percent at $20.41 around midday and Ford Motor Co shares were flat at $9.67.