Top 5 Hot Vehicles in September

DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- The financial markets may be confused, but U.S. consumers knew exactly what they wanted when it came to buying new vehicles in September.

They headed for the pickup trucks and SUVs.

This made winners out of the Detroit Three, because despite vast transformations -- both in and out of bankruptcy -- Ford ( F), GM ( F) and Chrysler -- remain pickup truck and SUV companies that also sell cars.

Thus, of the top seven selling vehicles in the U.S. in September, four are pickup trucks and SUVs made by the Detroit Three, and three are small cars made by Japanese manufacturers.

Trucks "are benefiting from historical patterns that favor higher pickup sales in the second half of the year," said Don Johnson, GM vice president of U.S. sales operations, on the automaker's September sales call.

Additionally, GM advertises more in the fall, heavy baseball and football advertising, with much of the focus on pickup trucks.

"This time of year people are starting to think about winter," Johnson said. "Commercial customers think about replacing trucks before things get too cold, and they start breaking down." Pickups accounted for nearly 13% of new light vehicle sales in September, up from 11% in July.

Here are the five vehicles selected by TheStreet as September's five hottest vehicles, taking into account both sales gains and actual volume.

Ford Explorer

In September, Ford Explorer sales totaled 11,336 units, up 204% from last year. For the first nine months of 2011, Explorer sales are up 126% to 96,957.

Ford, the country's leading maker of utility vehicles, said total utility vehicle sales rose 30% in September to 48,798, paced by the Explorer. Sales of the Escape, the country's best selling utility vehicle, rose 41% to 20,225.

The 2012 Explorer, which gets 28 miles per gallon with a 2.0 liter EcoBoost engine, is now available. "Utility customers are looking for a balance of functionality and fuel efficiency," said Ken Czubay, vice president for U.S. marketing, sales and service, on the company's September sales call.

Dodge Ram

Sales of the Dodge Ram increased 45% to 24,522 units in September, the biggest single factor in Chrysler's overall 27% increase. The second biggest contributor to the overall gain was the Jeep Wrangler, with sales of 11,388 units, up 47%.

Ram had its best month of the year and best September since 2007. The light duty and heavy duty pickup truck versions of the model both had double-digit percentage increases in September, and editors of in September named the Ram 1500 the best $30,000 Pickup, Chrysler said.

Also in September, F-Series sales rose 15% to 54,410 units, and Silverado sales rose 36% to 43,698.

Chevrolet Tahoe

September sales of the Chevrolet Tahoe rose 62.5% to 8,813. For the first nine months of 2011, Tahoe sales are up 3% to 56,636.

During the month, GM truck sales, which includes trucks and SUVs, rose 34%. On the GM sales call, Don Johnson noted that sales of full-sized utilities rose 56%.

"With gas prices stabilizing, and at least some stability in consumer confidence, we weren't totally surprised to see those vehicles increase," he said.

Toyota Highlander

Although Toyota ( TM) has fully resumed U.S. production, its September sales were down 17.5%.

On the Toyota sales chart, the biggest gain for a major vehicle was a 51% sales increase for domestically produced Highlander, which took sales to 7,309 units. Year-to-date sales for the domestically produced Highlander are up 45% to 68,965 units.

However, because about 10% of Highlanders are produced in Japan, overall Highlander sales were down 3.6% in September to 7,544. Year-to-date, overall sales are up 15.4% to 73,080.

Overall, for Toyota, "the worst is behind us," said Bob Carter, Toyota Division group vice president and general manager, in a prepared statement. "We expect to exceed year-ago sales levels beginning in October with continued growth throughout the fourth quarter."

Nissan Versa

Unlike its Japanese competitors, Nissan is benefiting from full inventory levels.

September sales of the Altima, Nissan's best-selling car, rose 22% to 24,356 units, making it the seventh best selling light vehicle in the U.S.

For the first three quarters, Altima sales gained 19% to 200,554 units, making it the fourth bestselling vehicle, behind the Toyota Camry with 229,521, but ahead of the Honda ( HMC) Accord with 195,102 and the Ford Fusion, with 188,439 units.

Overall, Nissan sales rose 25% to 92,964. "Nissan is in a fortunate position with plenty of inventory across a range of market segments, which is helpful when seasons change," said analyst Jessica Caldwell, in a prepared statement. "Nissan has been very aggressive in using advertising to get out the message that it has plenty of inventory."

--Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to

>To submit a news tip, send an email to: