Cheap gas, Labor Day weekend drive automakers' U.S. sales in Sept

Thu Oct 1, 2015 4:38pm EDT
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By Sweta Singh

(Reuters) - U.S. auto sales surged in September to their strongest in more than a decade, with the Detroit Three clocking double-digit growth as cheap gasoline and ultra-low interest rates drove demand for sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

Sales also got a boost from the calendar, with the entire Labor Day weekend falling in September for the first time since 2012. The holiday weekend is traditionally important for sales.

Total vehicle sales for the month shot up 15.8 percent from a year earlier to 1.44 million cars and light trucks, equal to a seasonally adjusted annual rate, or SAAR, of 18.17 million, according to research firm Autodata Corp.

That topped estimates for a SAAR of 17.6 million and was the highest since the 20.6 million clocked in July 2005.

At this pace, the U.S. auto industry is on track to challenge the record for full-year sales of 17.8 million vehicles set in 2000.

The big three U.S. automakers - General Motors Co (GM.N: Quote), Ford Motor Co (F.N: Quote) and the U.S. operations of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCAU.N: Quote) - all reported strong sales at a time when automakers are struggling with slowing demand in China and other markets.

Car sales in China, until recently the profit engine for automakers around the world, have been hit by a cooling economy and a plunging stock market.

GM, the largest U.S. automaker, said its total sales in September rose about 12 percent to 251,310 vehicles compared with the same month last year. (   Continued...

A general view of the front entrance at the General Motors Assembly Plant in Arlington, Texas June 9, 2015.   REUTERS/Mike Stone