DETROIT -- General Motors expects U.S. vehicle sales for the industry to strengthen from June's exceptionally weak levels and hit an annual rate in the mid-17 million range, a GM official said on Wednesday.
GM will sell more vehicles in July than any other month so far this year, said Paul Ballew, the automaker's executive director of global market and industry analysis.
He added that it would be hard-pressed to top its sales level from last year when it captured about 30 percent of the market, however.
"We have a tough year-over-year comparison. That's our biggest challenge," Ballew said. "We did 30 percent of the industry last year (in July), that's a tough benchmark for us to hit."
Automakers are scheduled to report their July U.S. sales on Aug. 3.
Ballew said GM's market share will top its rate of 26.8 percent for the first half of this year. Both GM and Ford Motor Co. have lost market share this year, and executives at both Detroit automakers have said it will be difficult to recover that lost ground this year.
Earlier this month, GM raised its cash rebate incentives to $5,000 on many of its sport utility vehicles and to $4,000 on most of its cars following a 15 percent drop in sales in June. Ford raised its incentives on some sport utility vehicles, including the Ford Explorer, by $1,000 to a total of $4,000.
Wall Street analysts estimates generally a range between 17.1 million and 17.5 million for the month.
A light vehicle sales estimate of 17.5 million for the month would be "reasonable", Ballew said. Including heavy vehicles, "we could get to 18 (million)," he said.
The stronger sales volume will help GM's inventories of unsold vehicles drop to about 1.1 million at the end of July from 1.3 million previously. Analysts have said that poor July sales would force the automaker to boost incentives further or cut production.
"We still believe that (third quarter) production schedules could be at risk, and so we have trimmed our (third quarter earnings per share) estimates for GM and Ford," JP Morgan analyst Himanshu Patel wrote in a research note to clients.
Analysts expect Ford sales will be flat to down slightly, while the Chrysler side of DaimlerChrysler AG could also be flat or up only slightly.
Chrysler has been alone among Detroit automakers in gaining market share this year, boosted by the success of its new Chrysler 300 sedan.
Japan's Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. have both gained market share this year, and analysts expect that both will record stronger sales in July.