SUVs, muscle cars help auto industry maintain momentum

Americans again bought vehicles that sit up high and come loaded with features like backup cameras and smartphone capabilities in June. Horsepower was also in; gas-sipping not so much.

SUVs of all sizes continued to fly off dealer lots. Sales of the larger Ford Explorer rose 30 percent; Nissan's Rogue small SUV posted a 54 percent jump; and sales of the Jeep Cherokee gained 39 percent.

The Edmunds.com auto website predicts that by the time all automakers report sales on Wednesday, the total will rise about 5 percent to 1.48 million for the best June since 2006.

Buoyed by the momentum, the National Automobile Dealers Association this week raised its full-year sales forecast to 17.2 million vehicles from just under 17 million. The last time auto sales topped 17 million was in 2001.

Most automakers reported gains for June, led by Nissan with an increase of 13 percent. General Motors' sales fell, largely because the company cut back on sales to rental-car companies.

Consumers are finding a number of reasons to buy, including an improved job market, low interest rates, a robust stock market and low gas prices. Automakers are also helping themselves by introducing new vehicles faster and loading them up with desirable features. The average new vehicle cost an estimated $31,948 in June, according to the car-buying site TrueCar.com.

Demand for SUVs is taking a bite out of car sales. Sales of the midsize Ford Fusion dropped 8 percent last month, while sales of Chevy's compact Cruze slipped 13 percent. Dealers offered promotions in June to clear some smaller cars off their lots. Kia, for example, was offering zero-percent financing for up to 66 months and up to $1,500 on Optima and Forte sedans.

The decline in car sales is partly due to lower gas prices. According to AAA, the average price for a gallon of gasoline in the U.S. Wednesday was $2.76, compared with $3.67 on July 1, 2014.

Muscle hasn't lost its appeal. Sales of the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger all rose. Ford sold 11,719 Mustangs, a 54 percent gain and the performance car's best June since 2007.

Among the major automakers reporting so far:

— Nissan's U.S. sales rose more than 13 percent in June. Besides the Rogue, sales of the midsize Altima rose 13 percent, bucking the trend in that segment.

— Fiat Chrysler posed an 8 percent gain, led by the Jeep brand, which posted a 25 percent sales increase.

— Ford sales rose 2 percent. Sales of the luxury Lincoln brand rose 14.5 percent. The company sold 999 Lincoln Navigators, a gain of 39 percent.

— Sales at General Motors fell 3 percent. The largest U.S. automaker outsold Ford's F-series in pickup sales, 70,166 to 55,171.

— Toyota sales rose 4.1 percent. Sales of its luxury Lexus division gained 11 percent.

— Honda sales rose 4.2 percent. Sales of the CR-V, the best-selling crossover SUV in the U.S., gained 8.5 percent.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
52°