By on October 3, 2018

2018 Ford F-150 - Image: Ford

Much has been made of the impact of two hurricanes, Harvey and Florence, and the two storms’ impact on September vehicles sales in the United States. Harvey swamped the Houston-Galveston area in August 2017, leading to an uptick in vehicles sales the following month, while Florence menaced a broad area of the U.S. Southeast for days in September 2018.

For Ford especially, these storms are the stated reason for the vaunted F-Series line of pickups suffering its first year-over-year sales drop in 16 months. If you can forgive April 2017, when the F-Series failed to clear the previous year’s bar by 117 units, that winning stretch can be lengthened to 23 months. Was Mother Nature truly to blame?

Speaking to the media on a conference call, Ford’s U.S. sales boss, Mark LaNeve, referred to September as a “tale of two hurricanes,” adding that “Hurricane Florence was a big factor this month.”

Some take issue with the ‘dueling hurricane’ assertion. Tyson Jominy, head of automotive data and analytics consulting at J.D. Power, claims the roughly 30,000 extra new vehicles purchased in September 2017 ignores the fact that a far less memorable hurricane, Irma, took roughly 14,000 vehicles out of the market that same month. Apply the difference over all automakers, and it’s hardly a tsunami of new buyers.

In September, Ford Motor Company’s overall sales dropped 11.2 percent, year over year, with year-to-date volume down 2.4 percent. Remove Lincoln from the equation and the numbers barely change. The F-Series, while still (by far) the best-selling vehicle line in America, saw its sales fall 8.8 percent compared to the previous September. On a year-to-date basis, F-Series volume is still up by 3.1 percent.

Image: FCA

It’s a year of flux for full-size truck makers — while the current generation of Ford pickups is well established, Ram’s new 1500 finally overcame its production hurdles and started really cranking out all configurations last month, leading to a 10 percent year-over-year sales increase for the brand’s pickup lines. Year to date, Ram truck volume is breaking even. Meanwhile, General Motors is patiently awaiting the impending release of its next-gen 2019 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. Third-quarter sales date shows significant declines.

It’s true that several factors were working against Ford last month, with hurricanes being just one.

First, last month contained one less selling day than September 2017. Since that period a year ago, the average interest rate on a new vehicle loan has risen a full percentage point, to 5.8 percent, Edmunds reports. The amount of buyers finding a zero percent loan has essentially been cut in half. All automakers have to grapple with this reality, just as they had to deal with two major storms.

Last month’s F-Series volume of 75,092 vehicles did compete with a 2017 sales month that was notably higher than average. The following two months saw F-Series volume return to near-normal before the usual end-of-year salesfest. For comparison’s sake, last month’s volume ever so slightly crested last year’s average monthly volume of 74,730 vehicles.

Regardless, after a dodgy sales year, the Blue Oval is no doubt eager to put September in its rear-view.

While last month was a dismal month for most automakers (overall U.S. auto sales dropped 7 percent), it wasn’t just Ram celebrating its good truck fortune. Toyota, which saw overall sales sink 10.4 percent, year over year, enjoyed an uptick in pickup popularity. The can-do-no-wrong Tacoma midsizer rose 23.3 percent, year over year, with volume over the first nine months of 2018 up 24.8 percent. Even the ancient Tundra — a model not due to be replaced until 2022 — saw its monthly volume rise 2.6 percent. It’s up, year to date, by 2.5 percent.

According to Automotive News, Nissan credits heavy “Truck Month” marketing for a run on the midsize Frontier (up 70.6 percent, year over year) and full-size Titan lines (up 56.6 percent). Both models reside firmly above last year’s year-to-date tally. It’s a bright spot for an auto group that saw its monthly volume shrink by 12.2 percent compared to the previous September.

[Images: Ford Motor Company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Nissan]

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