Asian automakers dominate in good month for car sales

Honda Motor Co. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.’s Subaru led U.S. sales gains in August as auto demand beat projections and Asia-based carmakers, buoyed by Toyota Motor Corp., combined for their best month ever.

Honda, Toyota and Subaru all have major manufacturing plants in Indiana.

Honda’s deliveries jumped 27 percent last month, topping analysts’ estimates, and Subaru’s surged 45 percent.

Toyota outsold Ford Motor Co. for a second month in a row, with a 23-percent increase that beat projections, and Nissan Motor Co. was up 22 percent.

Japanese and Korean carmakers sold a record 711,041 vehicles in August, according to Autodata Corp.

“It’s a bit of a return to the past,” said Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book in Irvine, Calif. “You have the Japanese doing well.”

In a break with past market increases that favored one vehicle segment over another, sales of small cars, mid-size sedans, pickups and crossovers all increased in August.

Honda and Toyota’s gains were aided by perennially top-selling car models, the Accord and Camry.

Those companies and Nissan face the most competitive vehicles from General Motors Co., Ford and Chrysler Group LLC in a generation.

Meanwhile, Subaru, which makes cars in Lafayette, said August was its best sales month ever. The automaker sold more than 41,061 vehicles last month, raising the company’s yearly total to about 281,652 units. That’s 29 percent more over the same period last year.

Subaru’s top seller was the Forester crossover, with more than 13,000 delivered, while the Impreza and the BRZ also set sales records.

U.S. car and light truck sales rose 17 percent, to 1.5 million units, the most since May 2007, according to Woodcliff Lake, N.J.-based Autodata. That topped the 14-percent rise to 1.47 million that was the average of 10 analyst estimates in a survey by Bloomberg News. The sales rate for the month was 16.1 million, the most since October 2007, Autodata said.

Asia-based automakers’ sales rose a combined 21 percent last month. That lifted their market share 1.7 percentage points, to 47.3 percent, while that of GM, Ford and Chrysler slipped 1.4 percentage points, to 43.9 percent, excluding Fiat-brand vehicles sold by Chrysler, Autodata said.

With the exception of Mazda Motor Corp., all Japanese carmakers lowered incentive spending last month, with Honda’s 33-percent cut being the steepest, according to Autodata. By comparison, South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co. raised incentives 53 percent and affiliate Kia Motors Corp. increased them 34 percent, Autodata said.

Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, had its biggest sales in more than five years, delivering 231,537 Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles in August. The monthly increase helped it surpass an expected 15-percent sales gain, the average of seven analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

Gains for the Toyota City, Japan-based company were led by a 22-percent jump in Camry sales, which widened its lead over the Accord as the best-selling U.S. car, and a 30-percent increase in sales for its Prius hybrid line.

“We all benefited in August from having an extra selling day and the unusual situation of Labor Day Weekend falling into the month’s totals,” Bill Fay, group vice president of Toyota’s U.S. sales unit, said in a conference call. “We may see some giveback in September, but for now, we’re going to enjoy the August results.”

Toyota has “flexibility on pricing and they’re using it” to keep Camry and other models ahead of competition from Ford and other companies, said Kevin Tynan, an analyst at Bloomberg Industries.

Toyota offered incentives averaging $2,560 for each Camry sold in August, up from $1,879 a year earlier, based on an estimate by, an auto pricing and data company in Santa Monica, Calif. That was above the industry average for mid-size sedans of $2,193, said Jessica Caldwell, senior industry analyst for Edmunds.

Lexus, Toyota’s premium vehicle line, regained its past ranking as the top-selling luxury brand in the U.S. in August, topping Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s BMW and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz for the first time in a year.

Honda’s volume of 166,432 Honda and Acura brand deliveries in August was the most ever for the month by the Tokyo-based company. Gains came from Accord and Civic small car sales and the CR-V, which moved ahead of Ford’s Escape to become the best- selling sport-utility vehicle in the U.S. so far this year.

“There’s been a fixation in the media on the Camry-Fusion battle, but the Accord has snuck up on the competition,” Brauer said. “Honda’s got the trifecta going right now: If you have a strong mid-size sedan, a strong compact sedan and a strong compact SUV, in this market, you kind of don’t need anything else.”

Sales of Accord, which trails only Camry among U.S. car models, rose 11 percent. Civic, the best-selling small car, had a 59-percent increase for the month, and CR-V sales rose 45 percent to a record 34,654 units, the company said. Civics are manufactured in Greensburg.

A 9-percent increase in deliveries for Honda’s Acura premium brand, led by the new MDX SUV, helped the company outsell Chrysler for the second month in a row.

Nissan’s gain was led by a 20-percent increase for the improved Altima sedan, 19-percent for Sentra small car and the Pathfinder SUV, whose sales more than tripled.

Deliveries of the carmaker’s all-electric Leaf hatchback were the highest ever, more than tripling, to 2,420, from a year earlier, the Yokohama, Japan-based company said.

Hyundai and Kia’s combined deliveries rose 6.3 percent, trailing the 9.2-percent average estimate of seven analysts. The Seoul-based carmakers have trailed industrywide sales growth in every month since September.

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