LORDSTOWN - North American sales of the Lordstown-built Chevy Cruze dropped dramatically in September to just 12,730, less than half the number sold in September 2012.
Top General Motors executives weren't panicking, though, attributing the dip to issues like timing, fewer selling days last month and low inventory. They said they expect sales to rebound in the fourth quarter to allow Cruze sales to finish ahead of last year.
"At the beginning of this month, we recognized we were pretty low in days supply on the retail side. That really caused us to get off to a bit of a slow start in the month," Don Johnson, GM's U.S. vice president of Chevrolet sales and service, said during Tuesday's monthly sales conference call for investors and media. "We did pick up momentum throughout the month, but it just wasn't enough to get back on track."
Johnson said Cruze inventory is now back up to about 65 day supply.
Cruze fleet sales also had dropped by about 8,300, or about 82 percent, in September when compared to this time last year, which was expected due to timing of purchases, GM officials said.
Despite the large drop for the Cruze, the small car's sales for the first nine months of 2013 still outpaced sales at this point in 2012 by 8.4 percent. Johnson said he expects sales to rebound nicely in the fourth quarter to allow the car to maintain its current 8.4 percent increase in year-over-year numbers.
September's drop in Cruze sales along with an 11 percent drop in sales of the redesigned Silverado pickup truck, contributed to General Motors sales decline of 11 percent overall.
Kurt McNeil, vice president of U.S. sales operations, was quick to point out that the Labor Day holiday this year was counted in August's sales figures, leaving only 23 selling days for September.
Analysts agreed that a quirk in the calendar - not lower demand - is to blame. 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's sales will be missing the holiday boost.
Analysts say 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 see a strong close to the year.
Other auto sales figures reported Tuesday included Volkswagen sales, which were off 12 percent, and Toyota sales, down 4 percent.
Other Detroit automakers Ford and Chrysler appeared, however, to outperform the industry. Ford sales were up 6 percent, while sales at Chrysler rose 1 percent. Ford reported that sales of its top-selling F-Series pickups rose 10 percent. Chrysler was buoyed by the Ram pickup with sales up 8 percent.
Chrysler also said sales of the Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV increased 19 percent.
Ford was led by sales of its Fusion midsize sedan, which jumped 62 percent over last September, while the subcompact Fiesta posted nearly a 29 percent gain. But sales of the Escape SUV - one of Ford's best sellers - dropped 2 percent to 22,607, and Explorer SUV sales were up just 1.5 percent.
Volkswagen, which has struggled all year against strong 2012 numbers, had a poor month. Its top-seller, the Jetta small car, posted a nearly 10 percent sales decline.
Nissan also reported a sales drop, off nearly 6 percent from a year earlier. The Nissan Division's sales were off 6 percent, while the Infiniti luxury brand posted a 4 percent decline.
Third quarter retail sales for GM were up 13 percent and total sales were up 7 percent.
Associated Press auto writer Dee-Ann Durbin contributed to this report.