Harvey pressures auto sales

Cruze sales dip in August, but still ahead for year

DETROIT — August was a strong month for U.S. auto sales, but Hurricane Harvey is putting pressure on some of those gains.

General Motors said its sales rose 7.5 percent over last August, but the Chevy Cruze sales were not among those GM cars showing increases. Cruze sales, which include the sedan built in Lordstown and the Cruze hatchback built south of the border, showed a 26 percent drop in sales to 16,500 last month from 22,342 in August 2016. Mexican-made hatchbacks numbered 2,608 in August.

Still the Cruze is showing a 9.1 percent increase in year-over-year sales, with 133,966 deliveries so far this year in the U.S. That compares to 122,796 at this time last year. Of those year-to-date sales, 23,158 were Mexican-made hatchbacks, according to numbers released by GM.

That ranks the Cruze as the third-largest seller in the Chevy line, behind the Silverado pickup truck, at 363,354 deliveries in the first eight months of this year; and Chevy Equinox, which lists 185,233 U.S. deliveries so far this year, according to sales statistics released by GM Friday morning.

In other auto sales, Toyota saw a 7 percent increase over last August, and Volkswagen sales rose 9 percent. All three of these automakers cited strong sales of SUVs.

But not everyone got a boost. Nissan’s sales dropped 13 percent and Ford’s sales were down 2 percent. Fiat Chrysler’s sales fell 11 percent to 176,033. Sales of some individual models, like the Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV and Dodge Caravan minivan, saw strong growth, but sales of the company’s best-seller, the Ram pickup, dropped 7 percent.

Honda Motor Co.’s sales fell 2 percent to 146,015. In a reverse of most other automakers, Honda saw increased car sales while sales of its trucks and SUVs fell. Nissan Motor Co.’s sales fell 13 percent to 108,326, and Hyundai Motor Co.’s sales also dropped by 25 percent to 54,310.

U.S. auto sales were initially expected to increase slightly in August compared with a year ago, but analysts say lower sales in the Houston area could erase at least some of those gains. Harvey likely cut U.S. sales of new cars and trucks by 1.3 percent, or 20,000 vehicles, in August, forecasting firm LMC Automotive said. The Houston metro area is the ninth-largest vehicle market in the nation.

“We had a very strong month and grew our retail and commercial fleet business on the strength of robust crossover sales at all four of our brands,” said Kurt McNeil, General Motors’ U.S. vice president of Sales Operations. “But our focus is on the unfolding crisis in Texas and what we can do to help our customers, employees, dealers and everyone else impacted by the flooding.”

Until Aug. 26, August was shaping up to be a strong month at the eight Bayway Auto Group dealerships that Darryl Wischnewsky owns in the Houston metro area. Then came Harvey. Almost miraculously, none of Wischnewsky’s dealerships suffered any flood or other damage in the storm, but he says other dealers up and down the freeways he has driven have lost all of their inventory and their buildings have been damaged.

His group, which includes Lincoln, Chevrolet, Fiat Chrysler, Volkswagen and Volvo dealers, shut down last Saturday as the storm approached and just started reopening on Thursday. Losing the Saturday alone probably cost 60 to 70 sales, Wischnewsky said.

“Just that one day in Houston, that’s thousands of cars,” he said. “I think it will probably affect the national numbers as well.”

Now service is busy, but buyers are few as people try to recover from the massive rainfall, so the Labor Day weekend is likely to be slow.

But sales will pick up in September and October as people replace cars destroyed by floods. Black Book, a service that determines used car prices for dealerships, estimates that 500,000 to 1 million cars were total losses in the Houston area due to Harvey’s rainfall. Vehicles also were damaged at around 500 dealers, the service said.