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On the radar: October total vehicle sales lowest since April, but strike at GM may be partly to blame

Total sales of motor vehicles in October totaled 16.5 million units (SAAR), a drop from the 17.1 million in September and the lowest since 16.5 million in April.

It is possible that some of this may be attributable to the UAW strike at GM given the sharp decline in sales of domestic passenger cars to 3.208 million after 3.508 million in September and for domestic light trucks to 9.494 million from 9.896. Some of this would be lack of inventory at GM dealers or inability of dealers to deliver an ordered motor vehicle in October. There may be some rebound in November if brand loyal buyers were willing to wait for the right model.

Sales of foreign made cars were up to 1.144 million units in October after 1.092 million in September and light trucks were only a bit higher at 2.699 million from 2.641 million. GM dealers may have lost some sales in October to other automakers.

Overall sales of passenger cars were at 4.352 million in October, down from 4.600 million in September. Light trucks — which includes minivans, crossovers, and SUVs — were down to 12.193 million from 12.537 million. Light trucks’ share of all sales rose to 74% of the market which was the largest ever. Whether this was a quirk based on a one-month drop in passenger car sales or a new plateau for consumers’ preference for vehicles in the light trucks category will be clearer in coming months. Continued low gas prices are also encouraging consumers to opt for vehicles in the light trucks category.

The drop in motor vehicle sales is likely to cut into the dollar value of retail sales in October when that data is released on Friday, November 15 at 8:30 ET. If so, along with declines in gasoline prices, it could make the October data look uncomfortably weak at the start of the fourth quarter, especially while GDP appears to depend on consumer spending for what strength there is in the numbers.

Sales of heavy trucks were down to 536,000 in October from 575,000 in September. Businesses are only cautiously investing in equipment and trucks are one item that is getting uneven interest.



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