GM's third-quarter auto sales rise as waning demand for Ford trucks causes its sales to slip

Key Points
  • GM sales increased 6.3% during the third quarter on double-digit increases for its redesigned pickups and new crossovers.
  • U.S. vehicle sales for Ford declined 4.9% as sales of the highly-profitable F-Series pickup line tumbled 6% in the quarter.
  • A 15% increase in sales of Ram pickups and a record third-quarter sales of the redesigned Jeep Wrangler helped keep Fiat Chrysler's sales level from a year ago.
People walk by a Ford Escape SUV displayed during the media day for the Shanghai auto show in Shanghai, China, April 16, 2019.
Aly Song | Reuters

DETROIT – U.S. auto sales during the third quarter for the Big Three Detroit manufacturers were mixed with General Motors pulling ahead of the pack. A falloff in demand for Ford's popular pickups drove a decline in its overall sales.

GM's U.S. sales rose 6.3% in the third quarter over the same period last year while Ford Motor's sank by 4.9% and Fiat Chrysler's were flat, according to data release Wednesday by the three automakers. 

Shares of all three were all trading in the red Wednesday afternoon amid a broader market downturn. The Institute for Supply Management released a weak manufacturing report Tuesday that showed a possible economic slowdown attributed to the escalating trade war.

Shares of GM, which is in the middle of a union strike, tumbled by about 4% Wednesday afternoon. Ford and Fiat Chrysler were both down by about 3%.

Cox Automotive reports U.S. auto sales were estimated to be down 11.7% in September, dragging industry sales down 1.4% through the first nine months of the year.

Pickups dominated Wednesday's car data. GM's redesigned Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups saw double-digit sales increases that helped offset a 38% declines in car sales. The company's overall truck sales, which include SUVs and vans, rose 8.8% during the quarter. Sales of crossovers also increased 28.3% for the quarter, largely thanks to the introduction of new models.

Ford, meanwhile, saw sales of its highly-profitable F-Series pickup line tumble 6% in the quarter, dragging the truck's sales during the first nine months of the year down 2.4% as the company competes against newer models from GM and Fiat Chrysler.

Ford Q3 US sales down 4.9%, vs. 6.1% estimated
Ford Q3 US sales down 4.9%, vs. 6.1% estimated

"Our truck, van and commercial business continued to be strong in the third quarter, with record van sales and continued F-Series sales leadership," Mark LaNeve, Ford's vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, said in a press release announcing the sales results.

An 8.8% increase in the Dearborn, Michigan, automaker's truck and van sales the past three months wasn't enough to offset a 10.5% decrease in SUV sales and a 29.5% drop in cars.

LaNeve called this year a "transitional one" for the company as Ford moves its lineup away from passenger cars to new or redesigned trucks, crossovers and SUVs.

Sales of Fiat Chrysler's Ram truck jumped 13.8% during the third quarter, once again outselling the Chevrolet Silverado, which has been the long-standing second-best selling pickup behind F-Series for years.

"Lower interest rates, a stable economy and consumer enthusiasm bolster our belief that new vehicle sales in the U.S. are heading for a strong finish," Reid bigland, Fiat Chrysler head of U.S. Sales, said in a press release.

GM's sales were not expected to have been significantly impacted by an ongoing strike by the United Auto Workers union against the automaker, which caused U.S. facilities to halt production beginning Sept. 16 that has spilled over to other North American facilities. The company declined to comment on the potential impact.

Sales for GM were down 0.8% during the first nine months of the year to more than 2.1 million vehicles. That compares to Ford at more than 1.8 million vehicles, a 3.5% decline, and Fiat Chrysler at nearly 1.7 million, a 1.1% drop.