Auto Industry Sees Growth In Summer Sales

Sep 4, 2013

Today is a good day in the car business. The summer sales season ended this Labor Day weekend, and automakers have released their sales figures.

The big car makers saw double-digit growth this August over the same time last year. It’s the best August since 2007 — before the economic collapse.

NPR’s Sonari Glinton joins us to discuss the most recent sales figures and what they mean for the industry.


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From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW.

Carmakers are out with strong sales figures today, and they're reporting double-digit growth this August over the same time last year. Several automakers have said that last month's sales will be over 16 million vehicles on a seasonally adjusted annual basis, which would make it the best August for auto sales since 2007. That was, of course, before the economic collapse.

NPR's Sonari Glinton covers the auto industry, and he's with us now. And I guess, first, Sonari, we should say that August is a very important month historically for car sales.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Yes, it is, if you think about summertime is traditionally when we go out to shop for cars. So after Labor Day is when many of us go back to work or school, and that's when we want a new ride. And so it's also the time when car companies offer incentives to clear off the lots for their next year's models. So consumers are looking for deals. And I was out with a friend shopping for a car, and the stores were packed. And that's in part because of zero percent financing that a lot of car companies were offering as an incentive.

HOBSON: Hmm. So we said it was the best August for auto sales since 2007. Who were the big winners?

GLINTON: Well, General Motors was up 22 percent, Toyota was up 23, Ford was up 12, Chrysler was up 11 percent. So those are all double-digit numbers for the big car companies. But here's the smaller company that I've been looking at, and it's Subaru, which is sort of a niche brand. You know, think college towns and the coasts.


GLINTON: You know, Portland, Oregon, and Portland, Maine, they went up 45 percent, and that's a part of their strategy, to get off the coast and in to the middle of the country. And one of their biggest markets in growth was in Texas.

HOBSON: Hmm. So a lot of people, even away from the two Portlands, are interested in Subarus these days. We know, Sonari, that cars are typically the second biggest purchase people are going to make after a house. What does all of this say about the economy as a whole, that so many of these companies are doing so well right now?

GLINTON: The housing market is directly tied to the auto industry. The F series for Ford was up 22 percent, Chrysler's Ram was up 29 percent. And what that shows is that when housing is strong, construction workers and contractors, one of the things they want to do is go out and get a new truck. And right now, trucks are as old as they've ever been, so there's a lot of pent up demand in the truck market. And as you see people going out to get these trucks, that shows the strength of the housing market.

HOBSON: Are there any car companies that we see today that are being left out of this boom in the auto industry?

GLINTON: Volkswagen is a little bit flat over last year. They had designs of being, you know, getting into that top pack with General Motors and Toyota, you know, fighting for the number spot globally. And their sales from last August were about 4 percent, which is, you know, far below what the, you know, the big carmakers are doing. And, you know, that's, you know, questions about strategy and the European market where they're strong. So Volkswagen is one of the companies. It's doing well, but not as well as some of the others this month.

HOBSON: Now, Sonari, you've been covering the auto industry for NPR for several years now. You used to do it from Michigan, the home of the American auto industry. You're now in Los Angeles. What is the difference between the two cities car-wise in terms of what people look for.

GLINTON: Well, you know, everywhere you go, a car is a symbol of who you are. It's interesting. In Detroit, people drive a lot of Chevy Malibus and lot of Ford Fusions. L.A. is the top market for the Toyota Prius, the Chevy Volt, the Tesla. And then there's so much luxury here. 27 percent of all Bentleys are sold here, and about a third of Porsches are sold in Southern California. So, you know, it's style and substance because Toyota, Honda and Hyundai are all headquartered here. So, you know, it's a good place if you love cars.

HOBSON: NPR's auto reporter Sonari Glinton, joining us from NPR West. Sonari, thanks so much.

GLINTON: You're welcome.

HOBSON: And coming up later in the show, regional accents on Twitter. Are there some words on Twitter that you only see in your area? Talk about that soon. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.