October 3, 2017 / 2:34 PM / a year ago

REFILE-Automakers' U.S. September sales lifted by hurricanes

(Fixes typo in first paragraph)

By Nick Carey

DETROIT, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Major automakers posted higher U.S. new vehicle sales in September, as consumers in hurricane-hit parts of the country, in particular southeast Texas, rushed to replace flood-damaged cars.

Analysts and industry consultants had predicted that hurricanes Harvey and Irma would provide automakers with their first monthly sales gain in 2017.

But others warned that high inventory levels and record consumer discounts remained a concern moving forward.

Sales at No. 1 U.S. automaker General Motors Co jumped nearly 12 percent versus September 2016 as a 43 percent increase in sales of crossovers and a 10 percent rise for pickup trucks offset an 11 percent decline for passenger cars.

GM inventory fell to 76 days supply last month from 88 days in August, a positive development since analysts have blamed the automaker for much of the industry’s oversupply of unsold new vehicles. GM is moving closer to its goal of around 70 days supply by the end of the year.

The “overall strength of the U.S. economy is the main force driving the market,” said GM chief economist Mustafa Mohatarem, with recovery in hurricane-damaged areas “spurring new and used vehicle sales.”

New car sales in the Houston area, the fourth most populous in the United States, jumped 109 percent in the three weeks after Hurricane Harvey compared with the three weeks before the storm, according to car shopping website Edmunds.

Some industry consultants have estimated up to 500,000 cars were damaged or destroyed during Harvey.

But Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds executive director of industry analysis, said automakers were struggling to reduce inventories in the rest of the country.

Ford Motor Co’s sales rose 8.7 percent in September, with those to consumers up 4.4 percent and lower-margin fleet sales up 25.1 percent. F-Series pickup truck sales soared 21.4 percent.

Toyota Motor Corp’s September sales were up nearly 15 percent, with strong gains for SUVs and trucks. Sales of the revamped 2018 Camry sedan were up 13 percent in the vehicle’s first full month of sales.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA) reported a 10 percent decline in sales, driven by a 41 percent drop in lower-margin fleet sales. The company is cutting back on fleet sales.

FCA said retail sales to consumers rose 0.3 percent from with September 2016.

Nissan Motor Co Ltd’s sales rose 9.5 percent in September.

In early trading, Ford shares were up 2.1 percent to $12.34 and GM was up nearly 3 percent to $43.37. (Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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