Ford sales rose 13 percent in June from a year earlier, while
Chrysler's increased 8 percent and General Motors' were up 6 percent as pickup
trucks continue to be the big showroom attraction.
Buoyed by rising consumer confidence and easier credit, automakers expected to post the strongest month since 2007.
Sales increased 12.9 percent for Nissan, 10 percent for Toyota and 9.7 percent for Honda. Volkswagen sales fell 3.2 percent.
Toyota said there are early signs buyers are embracing the new Corolla while the Camry topped 35,000 sales for the month and notched a milestone 10 million sales as a top-selling car for 11 years.
Sales of Nissan's Altima midsize sedan increased 23 percent and helped the Japanese automaker set a sales record for the month of June, while Honda sold more than 30,000 Accord midsize sedans for fourth consecutive month.
Sales in the pickup segment continued to surge for both Ford and Chrysler as sales of Ford's F-Series pickups increased 24 percent and sales of Chrysler's Ram truck brand increased 23 percent.
Ken Czubay, Ford's vice president of U.S. sales, said a rebound in housing and construction, along with the age of pickups now on the road, will continue to support pickup truck sales.
"There is very strong demand for replacement," Czubay said.
Full-size pickup sales also drove GM's increase. Sales of the Chevrolet Silverado, GM's most popular vehicle in the U.S., rose 29 percent to 43,259, while its sister, the GMC Sierra, rose 33 percent to 16,568.
GM is introducing redesigned 2014 models of Silverado and Sierra.
Ford said sales of its small cars, including the Focus, Fiesta and C-Max, increased 39 percent. But sales fell 1 percent for Ford's struggling Lincoln brand, with sales of the MKZ, its new midsize sedan, up just 1.4 percent.
Ford executives said the 104 percent increase in Fiesta sales represents a selldown of the outgoing model _ 60 percent of June sales were the 2013 model _ but would not break down how many have gone into fleet sales, which represented 35 percent of total sales, including 15 percent to daily rental companies.
Some small-car buyers could be consumers unable to get larger Fusions that will continue to be in short supply until additional production is underway at the Flat Rock, Mich., plant this fall, said U.S. sales chief Ken Czubay. Fusion sales fell 0.5 percent in June, and Ford is sending the bulk of its limited inventory to buyers on the coasts.
Chrysler, meanwhile, kept its sales streak alive by reporting its 39th consecutive month of gains, led by a 12 percent increase for Dodge brand. Chrysler and Fiat posted modest 1 percent gains. Jeep sales were flat compared with last June.
"The fundamentals for continued industry gains in new vehicle sales remain intact," Reid Bigland, Chrysler's head of U.S. sales said in a statement.
The Auburn Hills, Mich., automaker's gain was slightly higher than expectations for the overall industry, which is on track to sell more than 15 million cars and trucks for the first time since 2007.
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GM's Cadillac brand posted about a 15 percent sales increase, while Chevrolet rose 7 percent and GMC was up 5 percent. Buick slipped 4 percent.
The 2013 Malibu slipped 32 percent as GM nears the release of the improved 2014 version of the midsize sedan.
But the Chevrolet Cruze and Chevrolet Equinox each posted their best months ever. Cruze was up 73 percent to 32,871, while Equinox rose 14 percent to 23,645.
"We have good momentum heading into the second half of 2013: the economic outlook is solid and our launch vehicles are performing well in the marketplace," Kurt McNeil, GM's vice president of U.S. sales operations, said in a statement.
Toyota general manager Bill Fay said the strong first half of the year is "kicking off a strong summer selling season, which we expect will carry into the second half of the year." Fay noted "sales in June were solid, and demand didn't skip a beat."
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Industry forecasters predict that automakers sold more than 1.37 million new cars and trucks in the U.S. in June, or about 6.9 percent more than the same month last year. That would be the highest volume for the month of June since 2007.
"Despite the lackluster performance in financial markets in June, new vehicle sales reached their highest levels in six years _ yet more proof that the recent surge in consumer demand is real and not going anywhere," said Jesse Toprak, senior analyst for TrueCar.com.
Another good sign for the industry is that sales increases are occurring at the same time that transaction prices are increasing, according to J.D. Power and Associates and LMC Automotive.
The average transaction price of new vehicles sold through mid-June was $28,900 _ the highest ever for the month of June, according to the two firms.
"Within the last month, we saw a slowing stock market and a stalled unemployment recovery, but the automotive market continues to shine through it all," Edmunds.com senior analyst Jessica Caldwell said in a recent report. "The first half of 2013 was every bit as strong as the auto industry could expect at the beginning of the year, and there's no reason why the next six months can't maintain the same momentum."
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