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Automotive industry buoyed by shoppers' summer activity

By Associated Press

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DETROIT » Summer promotions and easier credit lured shoppers back to car buying last month, a relief to an industry worried about June's sales slowdown.

Every major automaker except for Ford and Daimler said their July sales topped those in June. The biggest monthly sales gains were posted by Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen, Subaru and Kia.

The industry sold just over 1 million cars and light trucks in July. That's 6.6 percent higher than in June, when worries were growing that the economic recovery might be faltering. Sales also were 5.1 percent higher than in July 2009, a year where sales fell to a 30-year low.

Pickup trucks and luxury cars were big sellers. Ford Motor Co. said July was the first month in 212 years that it sold more than 50,000 F-150s. Sales of the Toyota Tundra full-size pickup jumped 40 percent over last July. The newly redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee also saw sales jump.

Cadillac's SRX crossover, also redesigned this year, saw surging sales—up 750 percent over last July—and Acura sales were 45 percent higher.

Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends and analysis at the car pricing website TrueCar.com, said growth in truck and luxury sales is a positive sign since buyers are most likely to hold off purchases in those segments when times are tough.

"There are many consumers out there who are making need-based purchases, who can't wait any longer," he said.

BEST-SELLING VEHICLES IN AMERICA

Here is a look at last month's top-selling vehicles, as well as the percent change in sales from July 2009:
VEHICLE JULY 2010 SALES CHANGE
1. Ford F-series 50,449 38.9%
2. Toyota Camry 35,058 3.2%
3. Chevrolet Silverado 34,664 25.5%
4. Toyota Corolla/Matrix 27,345 -7.6%
5. Honda Civic 23,231 -22.7%
6. Honda Accord 23,032 -22.6%
7. Chevrolet Malibu 20,458 33.4%
8. Dodge Ram 20,138 13.6%
9. Honda CR-V 20,058 4.7%
10. Nissan Altima 18,275 -5.1%
Source: Autodata Corp.

Expressed as an annual rate, July sales were at a pace of 11.98 million. That's higher than last year's total sales of 10.4 million but still far from the peak sales of 16.9 million in 2005.

Still, July's gains gave the automakers confidence that a double-dip in car buying doesn't appear to be developing. "The industry recovery continues to be very modest but also continues to be in the right direction," said Bob Carter, a Toyota Motor Corp. group vice president.

Summer promotions—which usually begin in August but were pulled ahead by the nervous industry—drew out buyers even though cars weren't any cheaper than previous months.

Chrysler, for example, promised to make buyers' first two months' payments up to $1,000. They also offered up to $4,000 in cash or a 60-day return guarantee on new vehicles. But the automaker's actual incentive spending—an average of $3,105 per vehicle—was $100 less than June and $1,000 less than last July, according to Edmunds.com.

As long as employment continues to improve and gas prices stay below $3 a gallon, "sales should rise on a gradual basis," said General Motors Co.'s chief economist Ted Chu.

GM's sales rose 2.6 percent over June and 5.4 percent over last July. Newly launched models such as the Chevrolet Camaro muscle car, Chevrolet Equinox crossover and Buick LaCrosse sedan showed strong increases.

Ford's sales were flat from June but up 3 percent over last July. Ford's overall sales were weighed down by a double-digit drop in Mercury sales. Production of the brand stops at the end of this year.

Japan's Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. saw sales rise from June—20.3 percent for Toyota and 5.4 percent for Honda—but both saw small decreases compared with last July.






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