Chrysler Sales Rise 12 Percent In September

DETROIT (AP) — Chrysler's U.S. sales rose almost 12 percent last month as the company reported its best September in five years.

The increase resulted from new models, low interest rates and a stable U.S. economy, the company said. Its sales chief predicted that September sales for the industry would reach an annual rate of 14.9 million, making it the best month since March of 2008. Car companies report sales throughout the day on Tuesday.

The company's performance shows that Americans continued to buy new cars and trucks at a strong pace this year, making auto sales a steady bright spot in a cloudy economy. Cheap loans and leases, aging cars that need replacing, and a spate of fuel-efficient midsize sedans are drawing shoppers to dealerships.

"We remain optimistic about the health of the U.S. new vehicle sales industry and our position in it," said Reid Bigland, Chrysler's head of U.S. sales.

Most analysts are more conservative than Chrysler in their predictions for September. U.S. sales could increase by more than 1.1 million vehicles, up 11 percent from last year for an annual rate of about 14.5 million.

Sales would be even stronger were it not for uncertainty about the broader economy. Some people are holding back on major purchases until they see how the budget battle shakes out in Washington, whether Europe can fix its economy and who wins the U.S. presidential election, said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for LMC Automotive, an industry consulting firm.

Schuster expects September sales at an annual rate of 14.5 million, perhaps more if automakers finished the month stronger than expected. Bargain interest rates are largely fueling sales, he said. Some banks and credit unions offer 2 percent financing to people with good credit. That's almost as good as subsidized loans from the automakers' finance companies.

"Not only is it cheap, it's relatively available," Schuster said. "There's no question that's driving buyers."

Also, used-car values have remained high due to tight supplies and strong demand, and that means dealers are paying more for trade-ins.

And there are a bunch of new models coming out, especially in the midsize car category, the most popular segment of the U.S. market. Honda's new Accord and a new Ford Fusion are just hitting showrooms, as is a revamped Chevrolet Malibu. The redesigned Nissan Altima is selling well. A new Toyota Camry, the top-selling car in America, has been in showrooms for only a year.

A midsize sedan led Chrysler's September sales. Sales of Dodge Avenger jumped 89 percent from a year earlier, Chrysler said, helping lift the company's overall U.S. sales to 142,000 vehicles last month. The Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV also notched a strong month with sales up 19 percent. But the company's best-selling vehicle, the Ram pickup, posted a 6 percent increase following a strong August.