U.S. auto sales last month rose at a pace that was the lowest in at least 13 months as two of the biggest players reported declines, adding to doubts about the industry’s ability to maintain its record clip this year.
General Motors Co., the nation’s largest auto maker, reported its sales slipped 1.6% amid a planned reduction in sales to fleet buyers such as car rental agencies. GM’s retail sales to individual buyers edged up 1%, on strength in the Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac brands, it said.
Toyota Motor Corp., meanwhile, posted a 5.6% drop as car sales fell 10% and truck sales edged less than 1% lower.
Overall, the annualized sales pace slipped to 16.67 million vehicles last month, the lowest in at least 13 months on weaker demand for passenger cars. Market researcher Autodata Corp. reported total sales for the month of 1.5 million, up 2.5% from the same month a year earlier.
Analysts had been looking for the sales rate to remain at 17 million vehicles or more. The weakness was largely confined to passenger cars, which fell 8% from a year earlier; demand for light trucks and sport-utility vehicles continued to gain. Light trucks accounted for 58.9% of June sales, up from 54.2% a year ago, Autodata said.
Other car makers held up better than GM and Toyota, helped by sales of bigger vehicles. Ford Motor Co. posted a 6.4% gain to 239,096 light vehicles on sharply higher truck sales, which bounded up 24%, and SUV sales, up 7.3%. Ford said its car sales skidded 12%.
“We cannot get enough Escape [SUVs],” said Jeff Brown, who co-owns Brown’s Ford dealerships in Johnstown and Amsterdam, N.Y. Mr. Brown, 57 years old, said Escapes and F-150 pickups contributed the most to his sales.
He forecasts an uptick in sales as the summer months progress. Low loan interest rates and fuel prices are a green light for pickup sales, he said.
Last year “might have been one of the best summers we had in 50 years,” said Mr. Brown, adding if this summer’s sales get near to a year earlier “we’d be happy.”
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV posted a 6.5% rise in U.S. auto sales, fueled by robust demand for its Jeep brand. The Italian-U.S. auto maker’s sales fell just below Toyota and were its best June sales in 11 years. Jeep brand sales jumped 17%.
Still, the growth didn’t match past months. “What we’re seeing in June car sales is what we’ve predicted for some time,” said AutoTrader analyst Michelle Krebs. “The hefty year-over-year increases are narrowing, which is expected after this unprecedented long stretch of gains.”
Sales got a boost from an extra selling day in the month compared with the same period a year ago.
J.D. Power and LMC Automotive projected record incentives of $3,278 a vehicle for the month. Industry analysts estimated more than 20% of sales came from fleet buyers in June.
Nissan Motor Co. logged a 13% rise, a June record for the Japanese auto maker, propelled by a 14% jump in sales of crossovers, trucks and SUVs.
Honda Motor Co.’s sales rose 3.2% as light trucks climbed to a June high as demand for its Civic and Accord cars helped drive growth.
The average transaction price for a light vehicle sold in the U.S. rose 2% to $33,652, according to researcher Kelley Blue Book, driven by strength in trucks and SUVs.
Source: Wall Street Journal