California auto sales are rebounding from the recession at a faster pace than much of the country, according to industry data released Thursday.
California's new vehicle registrations increased 14.6% during the first nine months of this year compared with the same period a year earlier. That's greater than the 10.3% national average, according to the California New Car Dealers Assn.
"Serious car buyers are returning to the market and fueling the California auto industry's slow but steady recovery," said Peter Welch, the trade group's president.
Fourth-quarter sales are forecast to continue to increase throughout the state, he said.
Although Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. have the top-selling cars in the state, the Japanese automakers are seeing their market share in California fall as other manufacturers start to gain ground.
Combined sales of Toyota's Scion and Toyota nameplates fell to 19.1% of the market, from 20.6% a year earlier. While it still dominates all competitors in California, Toyota has been hurt by a series of recalls and reliability issues. On Thursday, the company said it would recall an additional 1.5 million vehicles globally — about half of them in the U.S. — for brake fluid problems.
Honda, the No. 2 auto seller in California, saw the market share of its Honda nameplate slip to 12% from 12.7%. Honda said Thursday that it plans to recall an undetermined number of vehicles because of brake fluid leaks.
Nonetheless, Honda has the two bestselling vehicles in the state so far this year — the Civic, followed by the Accord — each selling about 300,000 units. Toyota's Camry was third and its Corolla was fourth, followed by the Toyota Prius hybrid. The Ford Fusion sedan — at No. 12 — was the only domestic nameplate on the list of the top 20 selling cars in California, according to the trade group. The Ford F-series was the bestselling truck in the state, with sales approaching 150,000.
Despite their dearth of cars on the bestsellers list, U.S. automakers are making headway in California, which has been a difficult market for them in recent years. General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler saw their combined market share grow 2 percentage points to 30.7%. GM's Buick brand has nearly doubled its sales but still represents less than 1% of the market. Meanwhile, the Japanese brands' share fell 2 percentage points to 48.6%.
Sales are growing at a faster pace in the San Francisco Bay area than in Southern California, according to the California New Car Dealers Assn.
"We love the fact that the numbers are going up instead of down, but this will still turn out to be one of the worst years in decades," said Brian Maas, director of government affairs for the trade group. "Once people feel more secure in their job positions and the economy starts to turn around, there is a potential for auto sales to come back up much more quickly."