The auto industry came off a June that saw the best sales rate since 2007, and the momentum appears to have run through July. Toyota had its best July since 2008; GM had its best July since 2007. Chrysler and Ford had their best July since 2006. Honda sales, up 20.9%, represented the best July since 2006. And Nissan and Hyundai-Kia had their best July ever. With the top seven automakers reporting numbers, sales are up 13.6%.
A gallon of regular unleaded gained 15 cents in July, according to AAA, but small, fuel-efficient cars had a mixed month. The outgoing Corolla stayed flat, but rival Honda Civic gained nearly 30%. The Toyota Prius hybrid — ever the indicator of shoppers’ flight to fuel efficiency — gained a stunning 40% over an already-strong July 2012, mostly on the strength of the original Prius, which had a slight incentives uptick versus a year ago. The Chevrolet Cruze, meanwhile, piled on 70.2% in sales versus a slow July 2012 (sales were down 39.3% that month) thanks to higher year-over-year incentives on the compact sedan — and despite much lower dealer supply. The Ford Focus, meanwhile, stayed flat despite bigger incentives this year.
Ford and Nissan led the charge into Independence Day weekend with Ford reporting its best June since 2006 and Nissan logging its strongest month since Thomas Jefferson wore diapers. (OK, it was Nissan's best June in the U.S. ever, and Jefferson probably wore some kind of swaddling clothes.) June sales, in fact, played out like a children's T-ball game. Almost everyone got a pat on the back.
"The fundamentals for continued industry gains in new-vehicle sales remain intact," Chrysler sales chief Reid Bigland said in a company statement this morning. GM head economist Mustafa Mohatarem agreed: Americans "believe — with good justification — that the economic expansion is going to continue," he said in a separate statement.
Both are right. From consumer confidence to new-home construction, major June indicators suggested higher auto sales. That's exactly what happened: Sales for the top seven automakers increased 8.8%.
The last time Ford sold 70,000 F-Series pickups in a single month was March 2007 when unemployment was just 4.4%. The best-selling truck eclipsed that mark again in May 2013, gaining 30.6% to hit 71,604 sales. That's the best May since 2005, an era when the F-Series' clipped along at 800,000 or more sales a year.
Such is the pickup rebound, fueled by a construction market that saw some of the highest housing starts in recent months since 2008. The Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra and Chrysler's Ram pickups all had 20%-plus gains for the month — and this comes with little increases in incentives versus May 2012. Ford's recent plans to add jobs to its Kansas City, Mo., facility, where the F-150 is built, seems like a safe bet.
While Ford led Detroit's sales gains, Nissan's 24.7% sales increase led the largest Asian automakers. Sales for the Altima boomed 40.8%, and that's with slightly lower incentives versus a year ago. The rival Honda Accord added 11.7% to stay ahead by fewer than 1,500 sales. Virtually every Honda sale in May "represents a purchase by an individual customer," Honda sales chief John Mendel said in a statement — a reference to Honda's fleet sales, which are by far the lowest among the seven largest automakers.
Nissan and Ford led a strong month for the auto industry, with sales up 23.2% at Nissan and 17.9% at Ford thanks to big gains among both carmakers' strongest sellers. Nissan Altima sales gained 35.4% while Ford Escape sales spiked 52% — despite similar year-over-year incentives on both and lower dealership supply for the Escape.
It may seem bizarre that the Altima, then, isn't among the top 10 best-sellers. It's been there for ninth months straight, and in March it was the best-selling car (not truck) in America. But a year ago, sales were dismal — less than 17,000 in April 2012 — so even a healthy spike kept Nissan off April 2013's top 10.
The Toyota Camry and Honda Accord had higher-profile struggles. The Camry's sales drop could signal plateauing demand for Toyota's seventh-generation family sedan, whose year-over-year sales have declined for three straight months. The new Accord, meanwhile, is just 7 months old, and shoppers found significantly lower discounts versus the 2012 Accord a year ago. It's a factor that could affect Accord sales through autumn. Still, Ford didn't seem to have a problem with that. Anyone considering the new Fusion found a similar situation — lower discounts versus year-ago levels — but it didn't stop shoppers from flocking toward the popular sedan, whose sales boomed 23.7%.
With the top seven automakers reporting numbers — which account for the vast majority of new-car sales — March sales have crept up around 3.2% over year-ago levels. Honda, GM and Ford saw the largest gains, but no major automaker saw a double-digit increase.
The top sellers are a reshuffle from February's list; all 10 are back. The Nissan Altima jumped three spots from February, and despite an 8% sales drop, it's the best-selling sedan by just 100 cars in March. Madness? Not really. Look back at March 2012 and the Altima even beat out the Chevrolet Silverado for a podium finish in monthly sales.
Lower year-over-year incentives played against Nissan's redesigned sedan as surging competitors — the Honda Accord and the Ford Fusion — saw larger gains. Ford says the Fusion had its best sales month in the nameplate's 7 1/2-year history, and this happened with fewer incentives than on last year’s outgoing model. The Escape hit its highest monthly total in its 12-plus-year history. Those two cars — and rising Explorer and F-Series sales — overcame falling Focus, Edge and Mustang sales to drive Ford to a 5.7% year-over-year increase.
Automakers should party like it's … 2012. Sales kicked off the new year at the same pace as they ended the last, with figures from the top seven largest automakers up a combined 15.6% versus January 2012. Ford and Toyota led the way with gains of 20% or better, but Nissan and Hyundai-Kia both saw a roughly flat month. None of the six automakers saw a sales decrease, however.
Ford's banner month shifted the top 10 best-sellers. The Focus compact dropped from the list, but the Fusion sedan and Escape SUV reprised their standings; both were absent in December 2012. Despite two recalls following its launch early last fall, the redesigned Fusion shot up 64.5%, and this came with lighter incentives than the outgoing Fusion a year ago. The redesigned Honda Accord — winner of our recent Cars.com $26,000 Midsize Family Sedan Showdown — picked up even better speed, packing on 75.2% to stay 1,525 cars ahead of the Fusion. Keep an eye out: That race could end the year in a photo finish.
J.P. Morgan analyst Ryan Brinkman pegged sales right around December's annualized rate, Automotive News reports, meaning January would tie for the second best sales month since February 2008. Shoppers kept buying despite fewer deals. Total dealer and automaker discounts now combine for $5,223, according to CNW Marketing Research. That's down more than $500 versus January 2012, and combined with rising MSRPs, it's driven the average new car to $32,163 in January — up 6.6% versus a year ago.
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