The big manufacturing news on Tuesday was that American auto sales were up 13% in September, to nearly 1.2 million vehicles. Small vehicles led the month's good performance, now making up 23% of new vehicle sales. Consumer expectations of prolonged high gas prices or increasing interest in being environmentally friendly may have contributed to the strong sales of small, fuel-efficient, and hybrid vehicles. Despite the industry's big improvement, the major automakers saw drastically different results, leading to divergence in share prices.
By percentage, the biggest winners were Japanese importers Toyota Motors
More surprising was the performance of boutique all-electric luxury-car maker Tesla Motors
Chrysler, majority-owned by Italian carmaker Fiat, turned in the strongest sales of the Detroit Three: 12% sales growth, driven by the mid-size Dodge Avenger and compact Dodge Dart. General Motors
Ford is already undergoing prolonged trouble in Europe and is behind rival GM in breaking into the Chinese market. Does weakness in North American sales mean investors should slam on the brakes? Not necessarily: September may have simply been a fluke, since Ford is currently in between models of its popular Fusion sedan, which typically makes up 12% of sales. In fact, the company's "One Ford" plan to integrate vehicle platforms, trim development costs, and break new sales territory may only just be starting to bear fruit.
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Fool contributor Daniel Ferry owns shares of General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford and Tesla Motors. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Tesla Motors, General Motors, and Ford and creating a synthetic long position in Ford. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.