DETROIT: Pickup trucks may have led the charge, but strong sales of small cars in July showed demand for new vehicles is broad — and not slowing down.
Car sales grew in the first six months of this year, but not at the blistering pace of trucks and SUVs. Through June, full-size pickups were up 22.5 percent over the year before, while cars were up just 5 percent.
Last month, car sales took off. General Motors’ car sales jumped 24 percent. Sales of the Honda Civic small car were up 30 percent to 32,416, their best July in 13 years. Sales of the recently redesigned Ford Fiesta subcompact jumped 89 percent, while the Toyota Prius hybrid was up 40 percent.
Part of the small car surge was seasonal. Small cars always sell better in the summer and then taper off as winter approaches. But it’s also an indication of the high level of demand from regular consumers, not just the contractors and other small businesses that helped fuel the truck boom.
GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota and Nissan all reported double-digit sales gains last month. Honda led the way with a 21 percent sales increase. Of major automakers, only Volkswagen had a down month. Its sales were off 3.3 percent as the top-selling Jetta compact faltered.
Industry sales rose 14 percent over last July to 1.3 million, according to Autodata Corp. On an annualized basis, the sales pace slowed slightly from June to 15.7 million. But that was still better than the annualized rate of 14 million from a year ago.
The industry’s numbers for July come a day after the U.S. government reported stronger than expected growth for the April-June quarter. The consulting firm LMC Automotive said the improving economy could push this year’s sales to around 16 million.
Sales last topped 16 million in 2007, just ahead of the recession. They bottomed out at a 30-year low of 10.4 million in 2009, and have been recovering ever since.
The average sale price of a vehicle last month held steady at just over $31,000, according to the car buying site TrueCar.com.
Sales details included:
• GM said its July U.S. sales rose 16 percent to 234,071. Sales of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups combined rose 46 percent. Roughly 15 percent of the trucks sold were the new versions, which went on sale in June. Sales of the Cruze small car from Lordstown jumped 70 percent.
• Ford sold 193,715 vehicles. Ford’s 11-percent increase was led by the F-Series pickup, with sales up 23 percent. Ford Fusion sedan sales dropped 12 percent as the company struggled to meet demand with its current production capacity. But Ford said more Fusions will be available this fall after it adds a shift to a Michigan plant.