Early holiday incentives juice June auto sales
DETROIT _ An early start to the Fourth of July holiday helped turn June into a better than expected month for car and truck sales and is bolstering expectations for the industry’s strongest year since 2007.
“There was quite a bit of merchandising going on last weekend,” Ken Czubay, Ford’s vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service said Tuesday. “We definitely saw an improvement in the last seven, eight, nine days.”
The Detroit Three _ led by Chrysler’s 20.3 percent sales increase _ performed better than expected in June, while Toyota and Honda sales soared from year-earlier levels depressed by inventory caused by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Bob Carter, Toyota’s group vice president and general manager, said June started strong, slowed in the middle of the month, then “came back with a roar into the fifth weekend.”
Automakers sold a total of 1.29 million cars and trucks in June, or an annual rate of 14.1 million vehicles. That is higher than what several analysts projected, and considerably stronger than the industry’s 13.8 million rate in May. The last year Americans bought more than 14 million new cars and trucks was 2007, when the final tally was 16.1 million.
Toyota boosted its 2012 industry forecast to 14.3 million cars and trucks, from 13.5 million.
Industry executives said lower gas prices and pent-up-demand continue to help the industry, despite sluggish job and income growth.
Consumer confidence dropped in June to 62 _ its lowest mark since January, according to the Conference Board. Nationally unemployment rose to 8.2 percent in May from 8.1 percent in April.
“Job growth has really been tepid,” said Ford Chief Economist Ellen Hughes-Cromwick. But, she said, “there are early signs that housing is starting to begin a revival.”
At GM, sales increased a stronger-than-expected 15.5 percent, more than twice what analysts expected, propelled by a stronger-than-expected increase in sales to fleet customers.
“Next month, you can expect our fleet volume and our fleet mix to be down,” said Kurt McNeil, GM’s vice president for U.S. sales operations.
GM’s stock climbed $1.10, or 5.6 percent, Tuesday, to close at $20.67. Ford’s stock rose 21 cents or 2.2 percent Tuesday to $9.60.
Ford’s sales increased 7 percent on strong sales of its Explorer SUV, all-new Escape and F-series pickup trucks.
Ford Chief Economist Ellen Hughes-Cromwick expects full-size pickup sales to remain strong because the housing market is starting to recover.
“Historically, home building activity has been a good supporter of the full-size pickup segment,” she said.
Chrysler’s 20 percent increase marked the 27th consecutive month its sales rose from a year earlier.
The Auburn Hills, Mich., automaker’s Chrysler brand led with a 63 percent surge. Sales of the Chrysler 300 full-size sedan increased 179 percent and the Chrysler 200 midsize sedan increased 50.6 percent.
Chrysler’s sales also were helped by the all-new Dodge Dart compact car that began trickling into showrooms. Also, year-to-date sales of the Fiat 500 topped 20,000 _ more than Fiat sold for the entire year in 2011.
Japanese automakers resumed their comeback from last year’s earthquake and tsunami, which knocked out electrical power and facilities and crippled inventory.
Toyota sales were up 60.3 percent, Honda gained 48.8 percent and Nissan was up 28.2 percent.
When the year began, Toyota was hoping to sell 1.9 million cars and trucks in the U.S. Now, Carter said, “We are pacing right at the 2 million mark.”
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