By Marty Padgett
Summer couldn't take the edge off strong car sales, at least for the biggest brands. Car sales in July stayed aloft, as each of the Big Six posted double-digit gains, and as the overall sales rate hovered near the 16-million mark.
Strong sales increases were reported by General Motors (NYSE:GM), Ford (NYSE:F), and Chrysler, as well as Toyota (NYSE:TM) and Nissan (OTCPK:NSANY), with trucks and compact cars booming in tandem with a revival in housing starts and prices. Among the highlights in July's numbers: Toyota was up 16.5%; GM rose 16.3%; Ford, Chrysler, and Nissan rose by about 11% each; and Volkswagen (OTCPK:VLKAF) was off 3.3%.
Big Trucks, Big Numbers
Full-size trucks continued their dominance on the sales charts, with each of the four best-selling pickups posting sales increases on the month. The GMC Sierra, new for the 2014 model year, led the pack with a 49% gain, but Chevrolet's Silverado -- also new, and nearly identical to the GMC pickup -- posted its own 45% gain. Chrysler's Ram 1500 wasn't far off that pace with a 31% increase. The perennial truck leader wasn't left out: Ford sold 22% more F-Series trucks in July than in the same period a year ago, despite now having the oldest product among the domestics. (A new F-150 is expected in 2015.)
While truck sales grew, some compact and subcompact cars saw their sales explode. The Chevy Spark posted a 164% sales gain on the month, and Ford watched as sales of its Fiesta hatchback and sedan rose 88%.
Rates Remain (Pretty) Low
Car sales have yet to be affected by the slow upward drift in prices or interest rates on car and home loans. The average transaction price for a new car in July was $31,795, according to Kelly Blue Book. That's up a half-percent, or $148, from June and up 2%, or $620, from the same period a year ago.
As for those low rates -- a big driver of car sales since the recession ended -- they don't appear to have a clear end in sight, KBB analyst Karl Brauer told The Car Connection. "[Rates] have finally moved up, but are still at near-historic lows," Brauer said. "The upswing is so recent that we haven't yet seen the real impact." According to Bankrate.com, the national-average 48-month new-car loan is now 2.64%.
Meanwhile, the average 30-year mortgage rate crept up to 4.39% this week, as economists reported that housing prices in May had grown by more than any time since 2006. The latest Case-Shiller index paralleled the sales figures of some automakers, which reported their best sales since the stall that foreshadowed the 2007-08 auto-industry depression.
Coincidence, or not? With all the official numbers in, these sales figures have been tallied for the month of July.
General Motors: GM sold 234,071 vehicles in July, up 16% compared with a year ago. All four GM brands were up on the month: Cadillac sales rose 16.7% to 15,672 units; Buick sales were up 13.9% to 16,393 vehicles; GMC sold 39,356 vehicles, up 14.1%; and Chevrolet was up 17.1% to 162,670 units. Among the big movers, the Cadillac CTS was off 39% as it approaches a major model change; the same was true for the Corvette, down 32%. On the upside, the Chevy Spark watched its sales climb 164%, while the GMC Sierra got a 49% lift.
Ford Motor Co.: Ford sold 193,715 vehicles in July, an increase of 11.4% over the same period in 2012. The Ford division accounted for 186,796 of those sales, up 11.9%, while Lincoln tallied 6,919 sales, off 0.8%. The F-Series trucks were up strongly at 22%, to 60,449 units, and the Fiesta logged an 88.9% increase, to 7,667 units sold. However, the Fusion was off 12% to 20,522 vehicles, and the Mustang was off 21.7% to 5,768 units.
Toyota/Lexus/Scion: Toyota says it sold 193,394 vehicles in July, up more than 16.5% on the month. The 173,063 sales of Toyota vehicles represented an 11.5% gain; Lexus was up 23,031 units, or 21.2%. Scion sales of 6,261 units were off 9.3%.
Honda (NYSE:HMC)/Acura: Honda reported July sales of 141,439 vehicles, up 20.9% over the year-ago period, with Honda-brand vehicles accounting for 126,289 units. Honda-brand sales were up 21.3%; Acura sales, at 15,150 units, rose 18.1%. Both the Accord and Civic topped 30,000 sales in July.
Chrysler: Chrysler says its July sales of 140,102 units represented an 11% increase over the same period in 2012. The Chrysler brand sold 19,978 vehicles, off 4%, but all other brands were up; Fiat sold 3,783 units, up 2%; Jeep's 42,277 sales were up by the same percentage. Dodge sold 41,986 vehicles for an 18% gain, while Ram led the group with a 31% boost on 32,078 units sold. Dodge Durango sales were up by 88%, and Ram pickup sales rose 31%, but Fiat 500 sales were down 24% and Chrysler 200 sales dropped 13%.
Nissan/Infiniti: Nissan reports it sold 109,041 vehicles in July, an increase of 10.9% for a new July record. The Nissan brand recorded 101,279 of those sales, up 16.8%, while Infiniti was off 33.2% at 7,762 units sold -- as it transitions from G37 to 2014 Q50 sales. Nissan sold 29,534 Altima sedans and coupes in July, up 11%; the Leaf electric car posted 1,864 sales, up 372%.
Hyundai (OTC:HYMLY): Via Twitter, Hyundai's U.S. CEO John Krafcik reported the Korean automaker had its "best-ever July sales (66,005, +6%) led by U.S.-built Santa Fe (+48%), Elantra (+29%)."
Kia (OTC:KIMTF): Kia sold 49,004 vehicles in July, up 1.9% for its best July ever.
Subaru: With 35,994 vehicles sold in July, Subaru sales rose 43% over July 2012, passing Volkswagen for the first time in recent memory. Subaru sold 9,841 Forester wagons, up 52% over July 2012.
Volkswagen: VW sold 35,779 vehicles in July, down 3.3% from July 2012 and off 1.3% from its 2012 pace. At 10,051 units, the Passat was up 3.3%, but the Jetta sedan was off 2.2% to 13,388 units.
BMW/MINI: BMW and MINI reported combined sales of 29,993 vehicles in July, up 10.5% from the year-ago period. On the year the brands are up 9.2%. BMW sales rose 12.9% to 24,043 units, while MINI was up to 5,950 vehicles, up 1.6%.
Mercedes-Benz: Mercedes-Benz sold 26,423 vehicles in the U.S. in July, up 18.5% over July 2012. Minus Sprinter, the total of 23,648 vehicles represents a 22% increase, year over year. On the year, the Mercedes-Benz brand has accounted for sales of 165,598 units.
Mazda (OTCPK:MZDAY): Mazda reports it sold 24,977 vehicles in July, up 29.4% on the month, 4.2% on the year.
Audi (OTCPK:AUDVF): Audi says it sold 13,064 vehicles in July, up 11.6% over the year prior for its best July ever, and for its 31st record month in a row. For the year, sales are up 13.6%, to 87,341 vehicles.
Volvo: Volvo reported 5,909 sales in July, up 3.4% month over month. Year-to-date sales are down 4.6%, Volvo said, through the first seven months of 2012.
Jaguar/Land Rover: With Jaguar sales up 60% to 1,613 units, and Land Rover's numbers up 22% to 4,050 units in July, the combined brands posted a 31% increase over the same period a year prior. Year to date, Jaguar Land Rover is up 15%.
Mitsubishi: Mitsu sold 5,230 units in July, up 24.7%. Outlander sales were up 101%, and Outlander Sport sales rose 41.9%.
Porsche (OTCPK:POAHF): Porsche sold 3,820 vehicles in July, up 36% over July 2012. On the year, the brand is up to 25,129 vehicles, 31% higher than in 2012.