Top 5 Not-So-Hot Vehicles in September

DETROIT ( TheStreet) - September was a good month for the auto industry, as sales rose 10%.

In fact, it sometimes seems as if the auto industry got a pass on the so-called double dip . Given the new job commitments in recent union contracts and tentative agreements with Ford ( F), GM ( GM) and Chrysler, it seems as if the industry is committed to single-handedly keeping the economy from dipping back into recession.

The current state of the auto industry recalls the adage that economists have predicted eight of the past three recessions.

Despite the industry's strength, though, some well-known vehicles did not have a good month, but rather saw sales decline from September of 2010.

In some cases, it is necessary to look past the numbers. In an extreme case, involving the Toyota Camry, this fabulously popular automobile remained the no. 1 selling car in the country despite a double-digit sales decline.

In another, sales of the Ford Focus dropped 24.1% to 10,309 units. But Ken Czubay, vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service at Ford, said the decline was an aberration. "What we saw in September (was that) we were restocking with the new model and having a sell-down of the prior model. As we diminished inventory of the old model, we couldn't restock fast enough.

"We expect a terrific Focus month throughout the country in October," Czubay said.

The Focus didn't make our list, however, because the Taurus showed an even bigger decline.

Here are September's five not-so-hot sellers, selected not necessarily for the largest percentage decline but rather for largest declines by vehicles that nevertheless managed to rack up meaningful sales numbers that were indicative of trends at their manufacturers.

Ford Taurus

In September, Taurus sales fell 38% to 4,305. Year-to-date, Taurus sales are down 11.2% to 47,538.

On Ford's September sales call, Ford's Czubay said one reason for the decline is that "a lot of customers looking for Taurus, when they see the capability of Explorer, are switching to that."

In September, Explorer sales totaled 11,336 units, up 204% from last year. Czubay said customers are buying the Explorer because it has both functionality and fuel efficiency.

However, Taurus remains very much a part of Ford's future, said Erich Merkle, Ford U.S. sales analyst. "We've stopped production of the Crown Vic," Merkle said. "We're going to focus on the Taurus as our large car going forward. When we start getting Taurus out there, we will probably start to see that pick up a bit."

Dodge Charger

September sales of the Dodge Charger fell 23% to 6,794. For the first nine months, Charger sales are down 19% to 54,153.

Chrysler spokesman Ralph Kisiel said Charger retail sales are strong, but Chrysler has made an effort to cut back on fleet sales.

"In September, Charger retail sales nearly doubled compared with the same month in 2010," Kisiel said. "And year-to-date Charger retail sales (gains) are even higher than our company-wide retail sales, which we said were up 50% in the month of September."

Hyundai Sonata

September sales of the Hyundai Sonata declined 11% to 18,181. For the first nine months, Sonata sales are up 17% to 174,761.

Hyundai sales rose 12% in September to 52,051, with retail sales up 16%. For the first nine months, Hyundai sales are up 20% to 492,914, with retail sales up 31%.

Hyundai spokesman Miles Johnson said sales of both the Sonata and the Accent were hindered by a lack of availability. A similar problem occurred in August when Sonata sales fell 3% to 20, 682.

"Both models are turning so fast at dealerships that cars are being dropped off and sold right away," Johnson said, noting that the days' supply for inventories of both cars are in the single digits.

Buick LaCrosse

September sales of the Buick LaCrosse fell 8.5% to 4,338. Year-to-date sales are down 5.2% to 45,058.

Buick spokesman Nick Richards said September LaCrosse sales fell because of the transition from the 2011 models to the 2012 models. "A lot of larger dealers were out of elevens, which hurt their volume," he said.

For Buick overall, September was the 24th consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains, with Regal sales up 87% and Enclave sales up 10%. For the month, Buick sales rose 5.6% to 13,599. For the first nine months, Buick sales rose 23% to 140,092.

Toyota Camry

Camry sales declined 19% in September to 24,851, yet Camry remained the no. 1 selling car in the U.S.

That is clearly evidence of the car's immense popularity, which Toyota ( TM), hopes to retain with the 2012 model. Camry also remains the best-selling car for the first nine months of 2011 with sales of 229,521 units, down 9%

"Toyota is still struggling to grow its inventory for the right products, but we are moving deeper into the season when people buy trucks and SUVs, and Toyota is better stocked in those segments," said analyst Jessica Caldwell, in a prepared statement. "Growing the supply of the new Camry will be critical so Toyota can better compete in the high volume midsized sedan segment."

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

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