U.S. auto sales, led by Chrysler Group’s 20 percent advance and solid gains of 10 percent or more at Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Corp. and Ford Motor Co., rose 9 percent in July to 1.435 million.
The results were just below forecasts for a 10 percent increase but signal U.S. consumers remain in a buying mood, though many shoppers are being enticed with fatter discounts, automakers and analysts said.
The seasonally adjusted, annualized sales rate (SAAR) hit 16.5 million in July. That is short of the 16.7 million forecast compiled by Bloomberg and up from 15.8 million a year earlier, but down from the 17 million rate in June.
The SAAR has topped 16 million units five straight months now. In addition to Chrysler’s double-digit percentage gain in July, sales rose 12 percent at Toyota, 11 percent at Nissan and 10 percent at Ford.
It would be the fifth consecutive year of growth and biggest year for U.S. auto sales since 2006, when deliveries totaled 16.6 million units. Through July, U.S. car and light truck sales have advanced 5 percent to 9.6 million.
Among major automakers, GM, Ford, Honda, Hyundai-Kia and VW Group have lost share, while Toyota, Chrysler and Nissan have gained ground this year through July.
GM, despite another round of recalls last month, said deliveries rose 9 percent, with fleet shipments up by 14,093 units, or 31 percent. GM’s retail sales edged up nearly 8,000 units, or 4 percent.
Cadillac was the only GM brand to post a sales decline in July. Deliveries at Chevrolet, GM’s biggest division, climbed 8 percent.
Sales of light trucks, notably SUVs and crossovers, drove the industry gains last month with a 14 percent increase. Car demand rose 5 percent. Trucks and SUVs have now outsold cars for 11 straight months, the longest such stretch since a 31-month streak ended in August 2005, Edmunds.com said.
Toyota, behind a 17 percent jump in light truck volume, reported combined sales of 215,802 Scion, Toyota and Lexus models, and Lexus won the monthly U.S. luxury title with 27,333 vehicles sold — a 19 percent gain — ahead of Mercedes and BMW. Toyota also outsold Ford last month by 4,335 units.
GM’s light truck sales rose 12 percent and crossover volume jumped 26 percent, but car deliveries slid 4 percent.
Honda Motor Co.’s sales slipped 4 percent last month on weaker light truck demand at the Honda brand, despite record July deliveries of the CR-V, and a 55 percent decline in Acura car volume. Overall sales dipped 2 percent at the Honda division and 18 percent at Acura.
Honda was the only major automaker to cut incentives from June to July, with per-vehicle discounts averaging $1,754, according to J.D. Power and Associates.
Ford said deliveries rose 9 percent at the Ford division and 14 percent at Lincoln. Ford’s retail sales totaled 162,028, up 7 percent. Escape SUV sales soared 19 percent to its best July ever.
Robust deliveries of the new Jeep Cherokee and other trucks — as well as hefty incentives on older models — propelled Chrysler Group’s results.
It was the best July for Chrysler Group since 2005 and the 52nd consecutive month the automaker’s U.S. sales have increased year over year. Sales of the Cherokee totaled 14,827, helping Chrysler’s light-truck deliveries rise 27 percent, offsetting a 1 percent dip in car volume. Ram pickup sales increased 14 percent.
Overall, volume increased 41 percent at the Jeep brand, 18 percent at the Ram brand, 17 percent at the Chrysler brand, 3 percent at Dodge and 1 percent at Fiat.
Sales of the redesigned Chrysler 200 mid-sized sedan rose 32 percent compared with June deliveries, Chrysler said. Sales of the 200 were up slightly from a year earlier.
At Kia, sales jumped 7 percent to a July record of 52,309 vehicles on a 45 percent rise in deliveries of the Soul boxy subcompact. After posting lower sales last year, Kia has rebounded with sales up 7 percent to 349,722 through the first seven months of the year.
Hyundai’s deliveries rose 2 percent to a July record of 67,011 on higher Sonata and Santa Fe volume.
Subaru posted its biggest monthly gain of the year — 27 percent — with volume of 45,714.
At Mazda, sales rose 17 percent to 29,238 vehicles, its best July since 1993, on a 16 percent rise in CX-5 compact crossover demand and a 47 percent jump in Mazda6 deliveries.
Industry sales were fueled by higher retail demand and incentives, widespread credit availability, low interest rates, attractive lease deals, and steady economic growth.
Not all automakers are benefiting from the robust market. The Volkswagen brand’s slump continued with July deliveries sliding 15 percent on weaker demand for five core models — the Golf, Jetta, Beetle, Passat and Tiguan. VW brand volume has now skidded 16 straight months year over year.
Audi’s July sales advanced 12 percent to 14,616, marking the luxury unit’s 43rd consecutive monthly gain. Audi, citing lean inventories, said it also launched sales of certain 2015 models in July, about two months ahead of schedule.
Jaguar Land Rover reported U.S. sales of 5,830, an increase of 3 percent over July 2013.
Overall, industry incentives averaged $2,731 in July. That marks an increase of 7 percent over July 2013 and a decline of less than 1 percent from June, TrueCar.com estimates.
Chrysler’s incentives averaged $3,458 per vehicle last month, the highest among major automakers and an increase of 13 percent over July 2013, TrueCar.com estimates. Ford and GM incentives averaged nearly $3,400 per vehicle last month, too, TrueCar estimated.
Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell said consumers looked past recalls and rising gasoline prices and discovered affordable interest rates and other deals that made it easier to buy a new crossover or minivan in July.
Steven Szakaly, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association, sees U.S. industry sales hitting 16.4 million this year and rising to about 16.8 million in 2015, where they will stabilize as pent-up demand eases.
“Interest rates are going to rise but the question is ‘how quickly’ they increase,” Szakaly said. “It has been a good, profitable run for the auto industry, but as you add capacity, too, profits are at risk.”