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September 2013 car sales: Government shutdown, meet sales shutdown

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Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/File

(Read caption) Adriano Costa tapes a new car sticker with vital stats to a Pontiac Solstice. Nearly all major automakers saw a fall in sales this September, a step backwards after a summer of strong gains.

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Car sales hit the skids in September, as the major automakers saw double-digit gains from summer turn to single digits--and head in the wrong direction, in some cases.

Numbers are trending downward for many mass-market nameplates as the Federal government shutdown enters its second day, the culmination of a political battle over funding for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). 

Among the Big Six automakers, Ford and Chrysler eked out single-digit gains--while General Motors watched sales drop by 11 percent, and Nissan fell 5.5 percent. Toyota was up 4 percent--but without accounting for fewer selling days last month, its sales actually fell 4.3 percent. 

Some highlights of September's sales report: Volkswagen was off more than 12 percent, while Audi sales rose more than 6 percent.

For most of the summer, automakers had posted strong sales gains, hinged on the continued slow recovery of the economy, the availability of easier car financing, and the proliferation of brand-new models, including new pickups from Chevy and GMC and new family sedans still in their first year on sale.

Politics of the day aside, some of the real drivers behind this month's drop are anomalies of the calendar. September's short on days versus August, and includes the Labor Day holiday weekend.

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