General Motors Co , the largest U.S. automaker, posted a small gain in September U.S. sales as demand for passenger cars offset a drop in pickup trucks, while Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T> reported a large sales increase.
The annual auto sales pace in September was on track to hit 14.6 million vehicles, J.P. Morgan said. That is slightly higher than the 14.5 million estimate from GM and analysts.
U.S. auto sales for September are on track to increase about 12 percent from a year ago, surpassing analyst expectations, on the strength of foreign automakers, including Toyota. Attractive financing and pent-up demand have helped fuel sales gains this year.
GM and U.S. rival Ford Motor Co said sales of cars including the Chevrolet Cruze and the Ford Focus were strong as gasoline prices rose last month. Sales of GM's mini, small and compact cars nearly doubled, while Ford's small car sales rose 73 percent.
But both automakers said pickup truck sales in September, when those sales typically strengthen, were softer than in years past. Both GM and Ford said trucks made up about 12 percent of sales last month, down from 13 percent in September 2011.
"There has been a fundamental shift of truck to car that we've been seeing for the past few years," said Chevrolet's sales chief, Don Johnson, adding that September's results represented a continuation of that trend.
"Consumers, because of the price of fuel, have definitely shifted over the last couple of years to a stronger mix on the car side," he said.
GM sold 210,245 cars and trucks last month, up 1.5 percent from a year earlier. That represents a slowdown from GM's 3.4 percent growth during the first nine months of this year.
Ford sold 174,976 cars and trucks last month, on par with its results from a year ago as retail sales to consumers rose 4 percent. The No. 2 U.S. automaker's sales increased 5.4 percent during the first nine months of the year.
Ford shares were down 1.7 percent at $9.76 and GM shares were up 2.5 percent at $23.67 around midday on Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange.
TOYOTA SALES JUMP 41.5 PCT
Meanwhile, Toyota said vehicle sales rose 41.5 percent to 171,190 last month, besting its 32 percent in gains year-to-date. The results reflect Toyota's recovery from inventory shortages last year after the March 2011 earthquake in Japan.
Chrysler Group LLC, the smallest U.S. automaker, showed a 12 percent jump in sales to 142,041. Volkswagen of America, the U.S. arm of Volkswagen AG , said sales rose 34.4 percent.
Chrysler, majority-owned by Italy's Fiat SpA , projected that the sales rate would be 14.9 million for last month, including medium and heavy trucks.
Typically, medium and heavy trucks add around 300,000 vehicles to the sales rate, suggesting a 14.6 million pace for light vehicles for September.
Sales of the company's new Dodge Dart, introduced earlier this year, continue to rise. Chrysler said it sold 5,235 Darts in September, a 72 percent jump from August.
Fiat brand sales totaled 4,176, the highest monthly mark ever in the United States, Chrysler said.
Last month, incentives on trucks averaged more than $3,000 a vehicle compared with $1,888 for cars, according to TrueCar.com.
(Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit; editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Maureen Bavdek and Matthew Lewis)