News Column

Chrysler Posts 30% Gain in June Auto Sales; Ford, GM Also See Increases

July 5, 2011

Chrissie Thompson

Auto sales

The Detroit Three gained U.S. market share in June from 2010 levels, but overall U.S. demand for cars and light trucks slowed from May's eight-month low as consumers waited for vehicles to arrive from earthquake-damaged Japan.

Chrysler led Detroit automakers with a 30% U.S. sales gain last month, compared with Ford's 13.6% lift and General Motors' 10.2% gain. But the industrywide June light-vehicle sales rate dipped to 11.45 million units, sliding from May's 11.8-million-unit rate, which was an eight-month low.

Twelve analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News had forecast an auto sales rebound in June, using sales data from early in the month to predict a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 12 million. Instead, the sales rate hit its lowest point since August 2010 off continued shortages of vehicles built in earthquake-damaged Japan, despite several automakers' moves to increase incentives last month to spur demand. In addition, Ford analyst George Pipas said, California consumers held off late-June purchases in anticipation of a one-percentage-point decrease in the sales tax that took effect today.

After getting off to a strong start this winter, U.S. sales languished in May as volatile gas prices, rising unemployment and shortages of Japanese vehicles kept consumers out of showrooms. Still, GM and Ford are both sticking with their full-year 2011 forecasts for 12.8 million to 13.3 million U.S. light-vehicle sales. But Don Johnson, GM's vice president of U.S. sales operations, said sales will likely end up at the lower end of that range. That's what the U.S. market averaged through May, according to Autodata.

"Last month was a bit of a bump in the road," Johnson said. "There still is this pent-up demand. ... The biggest question we continue to have is, 'How quickly are the Japanese going to rebuild their inventory?' I would say that's a bigger risk than the unemployment rate."

Toyota, which has 45% of its global production in Japan, led the industry's discounting efforts in June, goosing its average incentive by 30.5% from May, consumer auto site said. Still, Toyota, Scion and Lexus sales fell a combined 21% in June off dwindling inventories.

To fight back, a 0% financing summer clearance event starts today, with marketing to pick up later in July. The automaker expects all its production to recover from the Japanese earthquake by September, with its dealership stock reaching normal levels by mid-fall. An all-new Yaris will join a new Camry, Prius V and Scion iQ in dealerships by year's end, said Don Esmond, Toyota's U.S. automotive operations chief.

Honda, Ford and Chrysler also increased incentives last month, leading to an overall industry increase of 2% from May, said. Like Toyota, inventory-strapped Honda saw sales fall 21%. But Nissan managed to see its share inch up, as its sales grew 11.4% off inventory in its namesake brand that finished the month at an analyst-recommended 62-day supply, Nissan division chief Al Castignetti said.

Ford's market-share gain came from a 20.2% lift in sales for its namesake brand and a 16.5% increase for Lincoln. F-Series sales grew only 6.7%, but the pickup's more fuel-efficient V-6 engine outsold the V-8 engine for the second-straight month.

Chrysler rode a 74% sales increase from Jeep, offsetting an 8% decline from the Chrysler brand.

GMC led GM's sales gain, with a 14.9% increase, followed by a 13.2% lift from Buick and a 10.9% gain from Chevrolet. Overall, GM trimmed low-profit sales to rental-car fleets by 4%, holding back its brands' sales gains and leading to a decline in sales for its Cadillac luxury brand. Cadillac's overall sales fell 7.9%, while its sales to individual customers increased 5%.

Source: Copyright (c) 2011, Detroit Free Press. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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