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August auto sales weather bad economic news

U.S. auto sales were a bright spot in a sea of bad economic news in August.  Most companies reported increases from the same month a year ago. 

Consumer sentiment in August fell to its lowest level since November 2007, stock markets dove, and fears of a double-dip recession increased. 

Those conditions usually flatten U.S. vehicle sales.

Yet car sales rode the storm, with sales at Chrysler  up 30%, GM,  up 18% and Ford,  up 11%. 

George Pipas is Ford’s U.S. Sales Analyst.  He says Americans may be worried about the economy, but many of them have put off buying a new car as long as possible.

"And I think that’s what explains the fact that roughly one million people bought new vehicles in the month of August."

Sales plummeted 24% at Honda and 12.7% at Toyota, due to continuing issues with car shortages related to the devastating tsunami that struck Japan in March. 

 Nissan has experienced far fewer problems from that event.  Nissan's U.S. sales rose 19.2% as the company capitalized on the problems of its Asian competitors, luring customers with special advertising and incentives. 

Sales rose 27% at Korean-based Kia, and 9% at its sister company Hyundai. 

Some companies' results were lowered because they couldn't keep up with customer demand for fuel-efficient compact cars.  Hyundai has been having difficulty making enough of the new Elantra, and Ford is still ramping up production of the new Focus.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.