Auto sales fell last month for the first time in more than two years, but industry analysts said a quirk in the calendar — not lower demand — was to blame.
Sales fell at General Motors, Toyota, Honda and Volkswagen in September, according to automaker reports out Tuesday. The new numbers snapped a 27-month streak of gains for the U.S. auto industry.
But Ford and Chrysler appeared to have outperformed the industry. Ford sales were up 6 percent, while sales at Chrysler rose a slight 1 percent.
September U.S. sales are expected to total around 1.1 million, according to auto shopping site Edmunds.com. That represents a 4 percent decrease from the same month last year, and a 24 percent decrease from the soaring pace in August, which was the best month in more than six years.
Labor Day weekend is typically strong for U.S. auto sales, and this year was no exception. But because the holiday came early, the auto industry counted all of that weekend’s sales in its August tallies. That means September sales were missing the usual holiday boost.
September’s reported numbers were “skewed” by the calendar, said Larry Taylor, owner of Beau Townsend Ford Lincoln in Vandalia. “It effectively made August have about a 35-day month and made September have a 26-day month, because the first three or four days got thrown into August,” he said.
Taylor said his dealership sold 156 new vehicles last month, 21 more than the same period last year, a 15.5 percent increase. “We had a really good month,” he said.
Terry Tobey, owner of Key Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Xenia, said his dealership’s new-car sales were down slightly in September.
“It started slow and stayed slow,” said Tobey, who attributed the decline to the region’s economic issues.
Analysts said all the factors that have been driving this year’s strong car sales — including low interest rates, the improving economy and the need to replace aging vehicles — remain in place. They project a strong close to the year.
“The market continues to move at a very healthy pace,” said Erich Merkle, Ford’s top U.S. sales analyst.
GM sales fell 11 percent in September compared to the same month last year. Volkswagen sales were off 12 percent, while Toyota sales were down 4 percent.
Sales at Honda — which directly employs more than 13,000 in its Ohio operations — fell 9.9 percent compared to September 2012.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.