The biggest automakers posted mostly improving U.S. vehicle sales in June to cap the best first half in a decade — setting the stage for an even better finish to the year.
Already accelerating sales will find a new gear in the year’s second half, according to several automakers. General Motors has redesigned versions of the Malibu, built at the Fairfax assembly plant in Kansas City, Kan., and the Camaro coming.
And Ford is finally reaching full production of its aluminum-bodied F-150 pickup, built at Claycomo and a plant in Michigan, and is promising a second-half sales surge of the top-selling vehicle line in America.
Prices and profits are also rising along with auto sales. Relatively low gasoline prices and interest rates continue to drive up sales of SUVs and pickups, which favor the Detroit Three automakers that specialize in those big rigs. The average vehicle sold for $33,340 last month, up 2.5 percent from a year ago, according to automotive researcher Kelley Blue Book.
“Auto sales continue to push higher and are slated to have one of the strongest years ever,” said Mark Williams, an analyst for Kelley Blue Book. “Demand for SUVs and trucks continues to drive the market, which resulted in several top automakers posting higher sales.”
Industrywide auto sales rose 3.9 percent to 1.48 million last month, the biggest June since 2006, according to researcher Autodata. The total was just shy of the 1.49 million that analysts had estimated.
The annualized sales rate adjusted for seasonal trends was 17.2 million cars and light trucks, Autodata said, matching the average of 11 analyst estimates and keeping the industry on track for its best year in a decade. New products and growing consumer confidence may push the pace even higher the rest of the year.
“We just wrapped up the U.S. auto industry’s best six months in a decade,” said Kurt McNeil, GM’s U.S. vice president of sales operations. “People feel good about their jobs and the direction the economy as a whole is taking, so the second half of the year should be strong too.”
Among the automakers, Nissan reported June’s biggest gain with a 13 percent increase, aided by a 16 percent expansion for its Infiniti premium brand.
Fiat Chrysler said U.S. sales rose 8.2 percent in June as its Jeep SUVs and Ram trucks won buyers, maintaining a streak of gains that spans more than five years.
Honda sales rose 4.2 percent, while Toyota reported a 4.1 percent increase. The company also sees sales surging the second half of the year.
“There’s a lot of momentum in the market,” said Bill Fay, Toyota division group vice president.
Ford missed estimates with a 1.5 percent light-vehicle sales gain, compared with projections for a 2.3 percent increase. Sales of Ford’s F-Series pickups fell 8.9 percent last month as the automaker said it continues to build inventory of the aluminum-bodied F-150.
Ford said it had only half its normal inventory of F-150s on dealer lots in June, and it will not have a full supply of its most profitable product until the end of September.
“We’re at full production right now, but not full availability,” Mark LaNeve, Ford’s U.S. sales chief, said of the F-150. “That rolls in over the next two to three to four months.”
GM sales fell 3 percent in June, when analysts had anticipated a 3 percent increase, as the largest U.S. automaker slashed deliveries to rental car companies by 45 percent.