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Third quarter automotive sales figures were the best the industry has seen in just over a year. How are the automakers managing such numbers in light of a puffed-up 2009 third quarter filled with C4C transactions? Fleet sales.

According to Automotive News, during the third quarter of 2010, General Motors, Ford, Kia, Hyundai, Toyota, Chrysler and Nissan combined to sell nearly 2.3 million vehicles. That total is the result of over 1.8 million retail sales and over 450,000 fleet sales. The problem is that the retail figure is actually down four percent from the prior year whereas fleet volume is up 24 percent. Combined, the overall number is up one percent compared with total sales for the third quarter of 2009.

Every one of those previously mentioned automakers, with the exception of GM, Hyundai and Kia, saw a dramatic rise in fleet sales for Q3 2010. In fact, Nissan was up 557 percent; having sold 972 fleet vehicles last year and then 6,384 this year. In Chrysler's case, the Auburn Hills automaker was previously quoted as gunning for a year-end fleet mix of 25 percent, but it's currently running at 39 percent with 39,474 units for September versus 24,070 at this time last year.Even with that sizeable increase in vehicles sold, Chrysler sold far fewer vehicles in 2009, so its fleet percentage remains the same.

[Source: Automotive News – sub. req. I Image: Chris Hondros/Getty]