July auto sales hit a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 17.8 million units in the United States, easily the strongest pace this year.
American Honda Motor Inc. and Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. were the big gainers among high-volume manufacturers. American Honda reported a 14.1 percent increase over July 2002, with 128,433 units. Toyota Motor Sales sold 169,631 units, up 8.7 percent year-to-year.
Dick Colliver, executive vice president of American Honda, says the apparent beginning of an economic recovery helped sales.
"Consumers continue to flock to the new-car market as the economic picture improves," Colliver says.
But sales at each of the Big 3 dropped from a strong July in 2002.
General Motors saw sales dip 1.8 percent from the year-ago month.
But Paul Ballew, GM executive director of market and industry analysis, noted that GM had a particularly strong month a year ago, when GM led a U.S. market that was churning at a torrid 18 million annual rate.
Ballew says GM has emerged from a sluggish start to 2003.
"This is clearly our strongest performance so far this year," Ballew says.
Ford Motor Co. sales declined 7.3 percent year-to-year, to 296,462 light vehicles.
Jim O'Connor, group vice president for marketing, sales and service, noted that Ford's F-series truck sales were up 14.8 percent at 69,812 as the company prepares to launch a new F-150. But the Chevrolet Silverado outsold the F series in July.
"We will be launching the all-new F-150 from a position of strength," O'Connor says.
DaimlerChrysler sales were down 1.7 percent, at 197,160. But the total was bolstered by a 25.5 percent increase in Mercedes-Benz sales, year-to-year, while Chrysler group sales slid 3.9 percent.
"We really didn't escalate incentives in the month of July" compared with June, says Gary Dilts, Chrysler group senior vice president of sales. That bodes well for August retail sales, he says.
BMW Group and Subaru recorded double-digit increases, at 14.8 percent and 13.2 percent, respectively. And Nissan North America Inc. was up 10.2 percent.
Volkswagen Division was down 20.0 percent, while the Hyundai group continued to see slower sales growth than in the past two years at 0.9 percent.