Retail is July's hero

Don't fret for the U.S. auto recovery just because July's selling rate dropped a bit from that blowout party in June. It's fleet's fault.

Could July's 15.7 million seasonally adjusted annual rate have matched June's 16 million if fleet volume had been as robust as the retail side?

Maybe so.

Industry fleet data are not readily available on sales day, but it looks like fleet activity fell off a cliff last month while dealerships were hopping. Two automakers that summarize fleet results support that.

General Motors said its retail sales – those made to individual buyers -- jumped 23 percent, but fleet volume declined 6 percent. Ford Motor Co. described total sales as the best July since 2006, but said its retail results were even better -- the best July since 2005. Sales to fleet operators fell to 22 percent of Ford's July 2013 mix from 27 percent a year earlier.

Industrywide, fleet activity plunged to 15 percent of the mix in July from about 20 percent the first six months, estimates analyst Jesse Toprak. "Fleet was unusually low in July, but retail did phenomenally well," he says.

All this sounds a little esoteric, but it's an important distinction. Retail is the true measure of economic demand.

Fleet sales are always volatile because bulk orders are lumpy and manufacturers use fleet as a relief valve to offset seasonal retail variations.

So if automakers actually diverted production to dealerships in a month that had the second-best selling rate since 2007, I say hoorah.

You can reach Jesse Snyder at -- Follow Jesse on Twitter:



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