Auto sales keep picking up speed

Analysts expect total sales of around 15.5 million cars and trucks in 2013, a million more than in 2012.
Analysts expect total sales of around 15.5 million cars and trucks in 2013, a million more than in 2012. (KEITH SRAKOCIC / AP)
Posted: July 04, 2013

DETROIT - Three years ago, U.S. car buyers started trickling back into showrooms after largely sitting out the recession. That trickle has turned into a flood.

Increasingly confident buyers pushed auto sales back to prerecession levels in the first six months of this year. Sales in the January-June period topped 7.8 million, their best first half since 2007, according to Autodata Corp. and Ward's AutoInfoBank.

The outlook for the rest of 2013 is just as strong. Analysts expect total sales of around 15.5 million cars and trucks in 2013, one million more than in 2012. New cars and trucks sold at an annualized rate of 15.96 million in June, the fastest monthly pace since December 2007.

Demand for big pickups has been the driving force. GM, Ford, and Chrysler sold 157,480 full-size pickup trucks combined in June. That is up around 25 percent from the same month a year ago and almost double the number the companies sold in June 2009, a year when total sales sank to a 30-year low.

Small and subcompact cars sales were also strong, possibly because young graduates went shopping for a new car, said Kelley Blue Book analyst Alec Gutierrez. Relatively high gas prices also may have steered some buyers to more fuel-efficient models, he said. Sales of Ford's recently updated Fiesta subcompact more than doubled, while the Hyundai Elantra small car saw a 22 percent gain.

Family haulers also did well to start the summer road-trip season. Honda said sales of its Odyssey minivan jumped 26 percent. The Toyota RAV4 SUV was up 36 percent, while sales of the Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV rose 33 percent.

Rates on auto loans remained near historic lows in June. The rate on a four-year new-car loan is averaging 2.7 percent, according to Bankrate.com.

Overall, GM sales rose a better-than-expected 6.5 percent in June. In addition to pickups, the Chevrolet Cruze small car was a big seller, with sales up 73 percent over last June. Buick was GM's only brand that faltered, with sales down 4.5 percent.

Ford's sales rose 14 percent on big demand for cars and the Escape small SUV, which had its best month ever.

Chrysler gained 8 percent despite a public flap with the government last month over the safety of some older-model Jeeps.

Toyota's sales rose 10 percent thanks to strong sales of the Camry sedan, Prius hybrid, and the newly redesigned Avalon sedan.

Honda's sales also rose 10 percent on solid demand for the Civic and Accord sedans as well as SUVs.

Nissan's sales jumped 13 percent. Sales of Nissan's electric Leaf quadrupled to 2,225 after the company lowered the price this spring.

Subaru of America, based in Cherry Hill, reported sales up 42 percent year over year, to 39,235 vehicles in June.

Volkswagen's sales dropped 3 percent, the third straight monthly decline for the German car company.

South Korea's Hyundai had its best June ever, with sales up 2 percent.

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