Automakers reported strong July sales numbers as consumers, eager to replace aging cars and businesses buying trucks, pushed the industry to levels not seen since before the Great Recession.
General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group all reported double-digit U.S. sales gains.
Ford could have sold even more cars if it had a big enough inventory of hot sellers such as the Explorer sport-utility and Fusion sedan. Some of the crunch should ease when the automaker expands production of the Fusion at a factory in Michigan later this year.
“If we were ever looking for an indication that the industry is back, this is the month,” said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with auto information company Edmunds.com. “People are getting back into the buying cycle.”
People are now replacing aging cars they were afraid to retire during the recession and the economic uncertainly that followed, Caldwell said.
Analysts estimated that July auto sales rose about 15% to more than 1.3 million vehicles.
GM said it sold 234,071 vehicles in July, a 16% gain from the same month a year earlier. Its truck sales were 51% ahead of last July.
The recovering housing and construction industries are fueling a boom in truck sales.
Ford Motor Co. said it sold 193,715 vehicles in July, an 11.4% increase. Its pickup truck sales rose 22.6% to more than 60,000 vehicles.
“July was robust for the industry and for Ford,” said Erich Merkle, Ford’s sales analyst.
Chrysler Group said Thursday that it sold 140,102 vehicles in July, an 11% gain from the same month a year earlier.
The Auburn Hills, Mich., automaker was helped by a big gain in truck sales. Chrysler said it sold 31,314 of its Dodge Ram trucks, a 31% increase from the same month a year earlier.
Both Ford and Chrysler said it was their best July sales since 2006.
Nissan said its U.S. sales rose 10.9% to a 109,041 vehicles last month, setting a July record for the Japanese company.
One exception was Volkswagen, which after gaining ground from the introduction of several new models in recent years has seen its momentum slow.
Sales of the VW brand fell 3.3% to 35,799 vehicles compared to the same month a year earlier.
The brisk sales of July and for much of the year have prompted several analysts to increase their estimates for all of 2013.
LMC Automotive raised its forecast for light-vehicle sales this year to 15.6 million units from 15.4 million.
“The overall trend in vehicle demand has outshined economic growth, and looking forward, the improving economic fundamentals should hold demand at the current level, if not accelerate it over the next several months,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive.
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