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Pickup truck discounts help total auto sales rise 9 percent

DETROIT — Big discounts on pickup trucks kept U.S. auto sales strong in September.

General Motors and Chrysler both had 19 percent sales increases over September 2013, while Toyota sales rose 2 percent. Ford and Volkswagen were down.

U.S. sales rose 9 percent to 1.2 million cars and trucks, according to Autodata Corp. September's annualized pace of 16.4 million vehicles — down from 17.5 million in August — is closer to what analysts are predicting for the full year.

August was fueled by Labor Day promotions and incentives on midsize cars, but September featured good deals on pickups. GM and Chrysler were also hoping to take advantage of Ford, which has temporarily closed a truck factory to retool for its new aluminum-clad F-150.

Pickup truck owners are the most loyal in the industry, but they also expect big discounts, said Larry Dominique, president of the ALG auto forecasting firm.

"If you have two or three good trucks in the marketplace, and Ram has an extra $2,500, they can pull off the fringes from each other," he said. But automakers should beware: Those customers might not stay loyal when buying a new truck.

Ford's sales dropped 3 percent to 180,175 as F-Series pickup sales dropped 1 percent to 59,863. It was the first time in seven months that Ford's monthly truck sales have dropped below 60,000.

Sales of the Chevrolet Silverado pickup rose 54 percent to 50,176. GM averaged just under $5,000 in incentives per pickup — 30 percent, or $1,140, higher than a year ago — according to estimates by J.D. Power and Associates.

GM's SUV sales were also strong. Sales of the recently revamped Cadillac Escalade more than doubled, while Chevrolet Traverse sales rose 45 percent.

Chrysler sold 169,890 cars and trucks, its best September since 2005. Ram truck sales rose 30 percent to 36,612 after Chrysler raised Ram incentives by 22 percent to $4,640.