Sandy stunts October auto sales

GM and Ford miss analyst expectations for the month while Hyundai and Nissan report losses as the superstorm takes a toll.

By Jason Notte Nov 1, 2012 4:03PM

Updated 4:35 p.m. ET

It didn't take long for Hurricane Sandy to impact U.S. auto sales for October, but some automakers were on higher ground than others when the storm hit.

Though the storm's effects were only felt during the last three days of the month, they were as catastrophic to auto sales as they were to just about every other aspect of life. The Greater New York Auto Dealers Association reports that 60% of dealers in metropolitan New York City and nine New York counties aren't operational at the moment.

"Dealers in the Northeast worked tirelessly to get their new-vehicle inventory to higher ground in the days preceding the storm, limiting sales and hopefully preventing flood damage from the bulk of their inventory," said Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst of automotive insights  at Kelley Blue Book.

Nissan and Hyundai were hit hardest of all automakers, with each company blaming losses on Sandy. Hyundai Motor America chief executive John Krafcik held the storm responsible for his company's 4% sales slide, acknowledging on Twitter that the storm came just as dealers were ramping up sales efforts. Meanwhile, both Nissan (NSANY) and Infiniti are offering employee discounts and financing to eligible residents in disaster areas as Nissan officials blamed Sandy for a 3.2% overall drop in sales.

"Unfortunately, October ended on a down note with Hurricane Sandy causing major disruption throughout the Northeast, which is our strongest performing region with more than 225 area dealers," said Al Castignetti, Nissan America's Nissan Division vice president.Image: Mature salesman showing businessman car in showroom - Sam Jordash., Digital Vision, Getty Images

Even companies with growing sales didn't escape the storm unscathed. General Motors (GM) sales rose 4.7% and Chrysler sales rose 10%, making it the best October for both companies since 2007, just before the economic downturn that resulted in bailouts for each company.

"In spite of Hurricane Sandy, Chrysler Group posted its best October sales since 2007 and we achieved our 31st consecutive month of year-over-year sales growth," said Reid Bigland, president and chief executive of Chrysler's Dodge brand and head of U.S. sales.

However, those sales and the 0.4% uptick reported by Ford (F) came in below analysts' expectations. Automakers elsewhere didn't fare much better, with Toyota (TM) missing analysts' mark despite a nearly 16% improvement in sales.

Sandy washed away the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of 14.9 million that economists had predicted. The rate for October came in at 14.29 million units, according to industry tracking company Autodata. That was still up from 13.34 million units a year earlier.

Ford estimated that Sandy would crush the annual rate by 300,000 vehicles, although Reuters reports that analysts think the industry would likely make up lost sales in November. Auto pricing and information site says the last three days of October account for about 17% of monthly sales and that the storm's impact on specific states likely knocked 30,000 vehicles off October's total.

Volkswagen's head of U.S. operations joined that chorus, warning that the auto industry may not live up to the 10% gains predicted for U.S. auto sales earlier this year thanks to the storm. During the same sales announcement, though, he announced a 22.4% sales jump for Volkswagen of America in October and $500,000 donation to the American Red Cross for hurricane victims -- joining a $1 million contribution made by Toyota.

"Despite over 25% of our dealers being impacted by the severe storm conditions, Volkswagen was able to increase sales by over 20% and deliver the best October in nearly 40 years -- a testament to the resilience and strength of our dealer body," said Jonathan Browning, head of Volkswagen Group of America.

Ford chose not to dwell on it and, instead, pressed on with succession plans for president and CEO Allan Mulally. Though Mulally plans to stay put through at least 2014, executive chairman Bill Fod announced Mark Fields as the company's new chief operating officer and made clear that he'd be taking on day-to-day business while Mulally focuses on long-term strategy.

Here's how the individual automakers fared:

Vehicles sold: 195,764
Change from a year earlier: 4.7% gain
Of note: Revered luxury brands Buick and Cadillac lead the charge. Sales of each up 14.5%

Vehicles sold: 168,456
Change from a year earlier: 0.4% gain
Of note: The 25,493 small cars sold in October were the most Ford has sold in a month since 2001.

Vehicles sold: 115,242
Change from a year earlier: 15.8% gain
Of note: If not for Sandy, Toyota may have easily exceeded expectations.

Vehicles sold: 128,185
Change from a year earlier: 10% gain
Of note: Fiat models alone saw an 89% sales spike.

Honda (HMC)
Vehicles sold: 106,973
Change from a year earlier: 8.8% gain
Of note: Folks really like the new Accord and Acura RDX, which boosted sales 25% and 62% respectively.

Vehicles sold: 79,685
Change from a year earlier: 3.2% loss
Of note: The Infiniti line saw sales rise nearly 28%, but even an 86% uptick in LEAF electric car sales couldn't prevent a 6% downturn in the Nissan division.

Vehicles sold: 50,271
Change from a year earlier: 4% loss
Of note: Santa Fe sales up 16%, but South Korea labor issues kept Accent and Veloster supplies tight.

Volkswagen (VLKAY)
Vehicles sold: 34,311
Change from a year earlier: 22.4% gain
Of note: Best October U.S. sales since 1972.

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