Led by its Buick and GMC brands, General Motors Co. squeezed out a better June than many analysts had expected, with U.S. new car sales up 1 percent over last year — seemingly proof that the company’s mounting recalls won’t keep buyers from pulling the trigger.
Though GM is far from putting its issues behind it, experts say the company seems to have weathered the storm.
“The big things are done,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst with AutoTrader.com. “We’ll still have the Department of Justice report, but that could be years. The bulk of the bad news is out, and GM survived it.”
The automaker’s surprising success last month helped set the tone for what was an unexpectedly strong end to the year’s first half across the industry.
Chrysler, Nissan, Toyota, Hyundai, and Subaru all had strong gains over last year. Kia was nearly flat. Among the largest automakers, only Ford Motor Co. and Honda reported sales decreases.
Many analysts had expected a slowdown in June after a sizzling May, but that didn’t come to pass.
Market research firm Autodata Corp. said U.S. new car sales in June were up a little more than 1 percent to 1.42 million — and that was in a month with fewer selling days than last year.
On an annualized rate, Autodata Corp. said sales nearly hit 17 million units in June, up from 16.8 million units in May and the highest level in more than eight years.
Chrysler Group yet again rose to the top of the pack with a 9 percent year-over-year gain. The company’s strong performance this year — sales are up 12 percent through the year’s first half — is thanks largely to its Jeep and Ram brands.
Dealers sold 44,609 Jeeps last month, a 28 percent increase over last year and a new record for June. That included 16,439 Wranglers and 13,337 Cherokees. Both SUVs are built at Chrysler’s Toledo Assembly Complex.
“We are seeing a lot of activity in the SUV segments. We’re seeing it in large SUVs and the small utilities. Jeep is just in that sweet spot, and the Jeep Cherokee could not have come at a better time,” Ms. Krebs said.
Year to date, Jeep has sold more than 80,000 Cherokees.
Detroit rival Ford had a down month, with sales falling 6 percent from last year.
One reason for that was a sizable drop in sales of trucks and utility vehicles.
The company’s top-selling F-series pickup was 11 percent off last year’s pace, while the popular Escape SUV was down 13 percent.
Even so, Ford’s results were better than analysts had anticipated, thanks to a strong month from the Fusion sedan.
At General Motors, the Buick brand was up 18 percent over last year, with all models but the compact Verano reporting better sales last month.
Chevrolet got a nice boost from the new Suburban large SUV, but sales of the Cruze compact fell off 21 percent from last year. Overall the brand was down 3 percent from 2013.
Still, for a company that has recalled a staggering 28 million vehicles this year, GM’s sales have been remarkably solid.
“June was the third very strong month in a row for GM ... . In fact, the first half of the year was our best retail sales performance since 2008, driven by an outstanding second quarter,” GM vice president Kurt McNeil said Tuesday.
Ms. Krebs, the Autotrader analyst, said if GM’s recall issues were going to show up in sales figures, they’d have done so by now.
Buying decisions just don’t seem to be affected by the recalls.
“I can’t get into the head of consumers but my guess is they recognize recalls are a part of what happens in the auto industry and they’re kind of immune to it,” she said.
For the first six months of 2014, GM remains No. 1 in U.S. sales by a wide margin. The company sold 1.46 million vehicles through June.
Ford is second with 1.27 million sales, followed by Toyota, with 1.17 million sales.
Chrysler, at 1.02 million, and Honda, at 739,000 round out the top five.
By Tyrel Linkhorn - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio (MCT)
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