General Motors Co. (GM:US), Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) led automakers reporting U.S. vehicle sales gains for July, extending a resurgence that’s putting the market on course for its best year since 2007.
GM deliveries rose 16 percent, with all four of its brands advancing, while Honda’s climbed 21 percent and Toyota’s increased 17 percent to surpass Ford Motor Co. (F:US) for the month. Light vehicle sales for Ford, Chrysler Group LLC and Nissan Motor Co. all gained 11 percent.
Low interest rates and competitive lease deals are helping boost new-car sales as Americans tend to buy vehicles based on monthly payments. Industry demand remains on pace for its best showing in six years as consumers replace the oldest cars and trucks ever on U.S. roads. That’s spurring purchases of Detroit automakers’ more-competitive cars and fuel-efficient pickups.
“We’ve got a very old fleet on the road,” Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive, said today on Bloomberg Television. “There’s no question a lot of what we’re seeing right now is that demand coming back.”
U.S. car and light truck sales climbed 14 percent in July to 1.32 million, according to Autodata Corp. The industry trailed the 1.33 million average estimate of nine analysts in a survey by Bloomberg News.
The annualized industry sales rate, adjusted for seasonal trends, was 15.7 million, missing the 15.8 million average of 15 estimates. The selling pace accelerated from 14.1 million a year earlier.
The industry’s sales pace for the month keeps the U.S. on track for its best year since 16.1 million vehicles were sold in 2007. It’s also more proof of the diverging fortunes of the American auto industry and the city of Detroit, which filed the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy in history last month.
GM rose 1.7 percent to $36.47 at the close in New York, while Ford gained 1.8 percent to $17.19. Ford has surged 33 percent this year while GM has jumped 27 percent, both outpacing the 20 percent gain by Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. The S&P 500 reached an all-time high today.
Deliveries of GM’s Chevrolet Impala surged 38 percent to 12,915, according to an e-mailed statement. The Detroit-based automaker is winding down sales of an outgoing version as the 2014 model receives accolades from Consumer Reports. The magazine rated the Impala the best sedan on the market -- a first for a U.S. automaker in at least 20 years.
Chrysler, majority-owned by Fiat SpA (F), extended its streak of U.S. sales gains to 40 months. The Auburn Hills, Michigan-based company, is introducing a new Jeep Cherokee sport-utility vehicle in this year’s second half to keep the momentum going.
Analysts had predicted even bigger sales growth than most of the largest automakers reported today. The averages of nine analysts’ estimates were for increases of 20 percent for GM, 17 percent for Ford and 16 percent for Chrysler. Nissan missed the 13 percent average estimate of seven analysts.
Toyota’s July increase was in line with the average 17 percent gain of seven estimates. Deliveries of the Toyota City, Japan-based company’s Prius hybrid line surged 40 percent and its Camry mid-size car climbed 16 percent.
Honda (7267) deliveries beat the 16 percent average gain of seven estimates. Sales of the Civic small car surged 30 percent to 32,416, its best ever July.
Nissan’s total sales set a company record for the month of July. Deliveries of the Yokohama, Japan-based automaker’s Altima mid-size car rose 11 percent, and its Pathfinder SUV more than tripled.
With $199-a-month leases on its Camry, Toyota is fueling a rise in leasing among hot-selling mid-size sedans in addition to its traditional role as a tool for selling luxury vehicles. The deals are being offered to help Camry remain the top-selling car in the U.S., much as they aided Toyota’s recovery from record recalls and Japan’s 2011 tsunami.
“We can expect that it will be a very good leasing month,” Michelle Krebs, an analyst at auto researcher Edmunds.com, said in a telephone interview. “All you have to do is turn on the TV and you see lease ad after lease ad. There’s such an intense battle in that mid-size segment.”
Leasing’s share of U.S. new-vehicle sales has been at least 22.5 percent in every month this year, according to J.D. Power & Associates. The four top months for lease penetration in the last decade, the extent of Power’s data, were in 2013, and each of the year’s first six months rank among the top nine, the Westlake Village, California-based researcher said.
As leasing boosts sales of a broader range of segments, growing full-size pickup deliveries have been more closely tied to replacement demand. Of the 31 million trucks on U.S. roads, 14 million are more than 11 years old, said Ken Czubay, Ford’s vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service.
“Those are vehicles that, when they replace them with a Ford pickup truck, they get significant improvements in fuel economy” and technology, Czubay said today on a conference call. Buyers in the housing, construction and oil service industries “have got to have trucks that will perform, and that’s the pent-up demand that we see.”
Sales of Ford’s F-Series trucks climbed 23 percent to 60,449, the Dearborn, Michigan-based company said in a statement. Deliveries surged 45 percent to 42,080 for GM’s Chevy Silverado and 31 percent to 31,314 for Chrysler’s Ram pickup.
Volkswagen AG (VOW), based in Wolfsburg, Germany, reported a 0.3 percent gain in combined sales of its VW and Audi brands, trailing the 2.2 percent increase that was the average of four estimates. The Passat sedan and the Beetle were the VW brand’s only model lines to post gains from a year earlier.
Combined sales for Hyundai Motor Co. (005380) and its affiliate Kia Motors Corp. (000270) rose 4.5 percent in July, better than the 3.4 average gain of seven analysts. The Seoul-based carmakers have trailed industrywide sales growth in every month since September. Deliveries of Hyundai’s Elantra increased 29 percent.
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