Strong start to summer raises hopes for even better second half

June was the fourth month in a row with a SAAR above 16 million, offsetting weak sales in a stormy and frigid January and February and lifting first-half volume 4 percent to 8.2 million units.

UPDATED: 7/1/14 6:16 pm ET - adds details

A flurry of new light-vehicle sales as June ended helped generate the fastest selling rate for the U.S. auto industry in almost eight years, raising hopes for an even more robust second half of 2014.

With sales of 1.4 million light vehicles last month, the seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales jumped to 17 million, the highest monthly SAAR since 17.2 million in July 2006. June volume handily beat analysts’ expectations, most of which forecast sales of between 16.3 million and 16.4 million units.

Unit volume increased a mere 1 percent from June 2013, but only because of a fluke in the sales reporting calendar that decreased the number of selling days to 24 this June from 26 a year ago.

June was the fourth month in a row with a SAAR above 16 million, offsetting weak sales in a stormy and frigid January and February and lifting first-half volume 4 percent to 8.2 million units.

And Toyota brand General Manager Bill Fay expects the second half to be a bit better than the first six months, today raising the automaker’s 2014 industry forecast a notch to 16.3 million.

“With consumer confidence now at a six-year high and near record-low financing options widely available, we see industrywide growth continuing to improve,” he said.

Among the major players, June sales results were mixed. Chrysler Group led the group with a 9 percent gain driven by the Jeep Cherokee and Ram pickup.

Nissan North America was close behind with a 5 percent increase in volume fueled by strong sales of Sentra and Versa small cars.

In the middle, Toyota Motor Sales deliveries rose 3 percent, Hyundai-Kia rose 2 percent and despite all its recall woes, General Motors matched the industry’s 1 percent increase.

And there was a cluster at the bottom. Sales at American Honda and Ford Motor both fell 6 percent, while Volkswagen Group of American dropped 8 percent.

Who beat VW? Counting the ways

It’s been a rough first half for Volkswagen Group of America and June was worse, with deliveries slipping 8 percent overall despite double-digit gains at Audi and Porsche.

The problem is entirely with the VW brand, where sales fell 13 percent in the first half and an alarming 22 percent in June to just 28,827 units.

How bad is it? Chrysler Group’s Ram pickup outsold the VW brand, both in June and the first half. So did Subaru.

Who outsold VW Group’s 50,070 June total? Kia, with sales of 50,644. And Dodge, with 50,314 deliveries.

BMW widens luxury lead

Surging June sales of its big sedans helped BMW almost triple its lead over archrival Mercedes-Benz as the annual battle for the best selling U.S. luxury brand reached the half-way point.

With 5 series sales 77 percent higher and 7 series up 81 percent, BMW opened up a 5,758 unit lead over Mercedes (excluding Sprinter vans) so far this year. After May, the BMW edge was 2,063.

One of the two German automakers has held the title each of the last three years: Mercedes in 2013 and BMW in 2011 and 2012.

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