July Auto Sales Hang On

Automakers reported mixed U.S. auto sales for July, amid rising incentives and sustained demand for trucks, as the industry kicked off the second half of the year with a slight gain.

Nissan Motor Co.’s deliveries rose a scant 1.2 percent. FCA US gained less than a percent and General Motors’ sales slipped just under 2 percent. At Ford Motor Company, which warned last week of a rough third quarter, volume fell 3 percent. Sales rose at Honda, but slipped at Toyota.

The July results are being scrutinized amid growing concern that the U.S. market is leveling off after six consecutive years of gains since the Great Recession. In the first half of the year, sales rose 1.4 percent to 8.6 million cars and light trucks.

Industry sales were 0.4 percent higher last month compared to July 2015, and just 1 percent higher for the year. The industry faces a tough comparison with the second half of 2015, when sales were notably robust in September, October and November.

In July 2015, 12.9 percent of new-vehicle loans were financed with a zero percent interest rate, while only 10.2 percent of loans were financed with zero percent last month, Edmunds says.

An additional weekend of sales, July 4 holiday promotions, a rise in incentive spending and strong light-truck demand helped drive volume last month, analysts say.

At GM, deliveries slipped 1.9 percent behind a 5.3 percent decline at Chevrolet. Sales rose 4.8 percent at GMC, 10 percent at Buick and 1.3 percent at Cadillac. GM said its retail volume rose 5 percent to 236,235 vehicles.

Ford’s decline stemmed from a 3 percent drop at the Ford division and a 4.6 fall in Lincoln deliveries. Ford said its fleet sales rose 6 percent to 55,321 last month, while retail demand dropped 6 percent to 161,158 cars and light trucks.

Sales at the Nissan division rose 1.7 percent in July, behind a record 57,794 crossover, SUV and truck sales for the month. Infiniti volume slipped 4.7 percent.

At American Honda, which reported an all-time monthly record of 77,740 truck sales, deliveries rose 4.4 percent for the month. Honda Division sales advanced 5.9 percent to a July record of 139,125 vehicles. Acura sales, however, fell 8.3 percent to 13,674 vehicles.

Even with record light-truck deliveries, volume at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. slipped 1.4 percent to 214,233 vehicles. Toyota brand sales slipped 2 percent, while sales at its Lexus luxury division dropped 6.5 percent. Sales at Scion, which is being phased out, surged 66 percent.

Hyundai set a July record with U.S. deliveries rising 5.6 percent to 75,003. Kia also marked a July record with volume rising 6.5 percent to 59,969 cars and light trucks.

FCA US posted sales of 180,727 — up slightly, or by 603 units — from revised figures for July 2015, behind a 5 percent gain at Jeep and the Ram brand. Volume dropped 10 percent at Dodge, 4.1 percent at the Chrysler brand and 14 percent at Fiat.

Volkswagen Group of America, mired in a diesel emissions scandal, saw July sales fall 8.1 percent to 28,758 vehicles at the Volkswagen brand. Audi, behind SUVs, the A3 and the A4, remains hot, recording 81 consecutive months of year over year gains. The luxury brand’s sales rose 4 percent to 18,364 vehicles last month — a July record.

Among other luxury brands, volume rose 7.1 percent at Mercedes and 53 percent at Volvo, but dropped 4.4 percent at BMW.

At Subaru of America, sales rose 3.1 percent to 52,093 vehicles, a July record. Jeff Walters, senior vice president of sales for Subaru of America, said the company is on pace this year to top 600,000 vehicle deliveries annually for the first time.

While some analysts and automakers believe low interest rates and gasoline prices, along with rising lease penetration will continue to support growth, adding to the 2015 record volume, others believe pent-up demand has been exhausted.

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