DETROIT — New models and Labor Day promotions didn't do much to fire Americans' appetites for new cars in September.
Sales at Chrysler Group and Ford Motor Co. rose slightly from August. They fell at General Motors Co. and Honda Motor Co. and were flat at Toyota Motor Corp. Car companies say a recovery is still happening, but it's not as strong as they had hoped following a terrible 2009.
"We're not going to bust loose as you sometimes see after a downturn, but we'll see steady growth," said Don Johnson, GM's vice president for U.S. sales.
There were a few winners. Redesigned crossovers, which are SUVs on car frames, saw big jumps across the industry. Sales of the 2011 Ford Edge, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Toyota RAV4 doubled, while General Motors' GMC Terrain surged more than 200 percent. With gas prices relatively low and credit loosening, buyers have been gravitating toward bigger vehicles.
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Some new small cars also saw strong sales, including Ford's Fiesta subcompact, which gets up to 40 miles per gallon.
Sales dropped 4 percent from August to 958,966, according to AutoData Corp. While it's typical for sales to decline after Labor Day, this August was one of the weakest on record.
Industry sales rose 29 percent from last September, but that was deceptive. The government's Cash for Clunkers rebate program, which ran during July and August of 2009, drew buyers who otherwise would have waited until later in the year.
September had the uneven sales that have plagued the industry all year. The month started strong thanks to Labor Day promotions, but sales tapered off until the final weekend, when new models and clearance sales on older ones piqued buyers' interest.
Industry analysts expect full-year sales of around 11.6 million vehicles for 2010. Last year, they totaled 10.9 million. In 2007, before the recession struck in force, sales came in around 16 million.
Buyers remain cautious, responding to promotions and economic news, which means sales come in spurts. Still, those trends "encourage us that the buyers are out there and that the industry recovery will continue," said Toyota vice president Bob Carter.
So far, automakers have refused to pump up sales by offering big incentives. Because car makers are now leaner and producing fewer vehicles, they aren't forced to use big discounts to move cars off lots.
But they'll try winning customers in other ways. GM has a new in-house car financing company and plans to offer new lease programs and target buyers with poor credit.
Auto loans are still restricted for people with poor or mediocre credit scores, said Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, Ford's chief economist.
But loans are available to people with high credit scores because banks and finance companies are extending credit more easily after last year's all-out freeze, she said. People with high scores generally buy pricier cars and trucks, which explains why sales of vehicles such as the Lexus GX crossover more than doubled over last September.
Ford bucked the trend of lower August-to-September sales. Sales rose 2 percent over the period and climbed 46 percent from last September.
Chrysler, which has struggled all year, also saw September sales rise slightly from August and 61 percent from last September.
GM's sales fell about 6 percent from August. Sales rose 10.5 percent over last September.
Other automakers reporting Friday:
* Honda said sales fell about 10 percent from August on slower sales of the Accord and Civic sedans.
* Hyundai said sales fell 13 percent from August, as sales of the Elantra X slowed and even its hot-selling Sonata sedan lost ground.
* Subaru said sales fell 3.6 percent from August but soared 47 percent over last year, buoyed by a 91 percent increase in sales of its best-selling Outback wagon.
* Volkswagen said its September sales rose 15 percent from last year due to stronger demand for the Jetta sedan.
* Kia Motors fell 7 percent from August but rose 39 percent from a year ago, led by brisk sales of the Sorento crossover.
* Nissan sales fell 3.4 percent from August, as sales of both its Infiniti and Nissan brand vehicles fell. Sales rose 34 percent versus last September.