DETROIT -- Automakers were hammered in July by double-digit drops in sales. Of the six major automakers, only Nissan Motor Co. reported an increase.
A weak economy, high gasoline prices and a product mix ill-suited to consumer demand drove overall U.S. car and light truck sales down 13.6 percent from last July, to 1.1 million vehicles.
For the first seven months, total U.S. sales fell to 8.5 million vehicles, a 10.5 percent decline from the same period a year ago.
With weak car sales -- and worse pickup and SUV sales -- General Motors total light-vehicle sales were down 26.1 percent in July to 233,340 units. GMs car sales were down 12.0 percent to 116,853 units. Light truck sales fell 36.4 percent to 116,487 units. Last month was the first time since April 2001 that GM sold more cars than trucks.
Chrysler LLC continued to be the biggest loser, with sales plunging 28.8 percent to 98,109 units. It barely managed to hold off Nissan -- which sold 95,319 vehicles -- and hang onto fifth place.
American Honda Motor Co., which has seemed almost bulletproof in recent months, reported a decline of 1.6 percent. Relatively strong Honda-brand car sales couldnt offset weak pickup and SUV sales and a poor performance by Acura.
Nissan was the exception in July, reporting an 8.5 percent sales increase, to 95,319. It managed to increase pickup and SUV sales 18.3 percent, largely on the strength of the Frontier and Xterra.
Incentives helped. Nissan is offering $3,000 rebates on the Xterra and $1,750 to $2,500 on the Frontier.
Nissans car sales rose by only 2.4 percent.
Toyota Motor Corp. reported an 11.9 percent decline in July sales. Toyota sold 197,424 vehicles last month.
Pickup sales plunged 32.4 percent in July, to 37,113 units. SUV sales fell 26.3 percent to 36,052 units. Car sales were flat.
Sales of the Camry were up slightly, while Prius sales declined as the company struggled to meet demand.
At Ford Motor Co., sales were down 14.7 percent in July, to 160,990 vehicles. Through July, Ford sales were down 14.1 percent compared with the first seven months of 2007, to 1,312,198 vehicles.
The figures do not include Jaguar and Land Rover sales. Fords sale of the two brands to Tata Motors closed June 1. The totals also exclude Mazda, a Ford affiliate.
Ford's Volvo unit remains an exception in an otherwise relatively resilient luxury car market. The brand slumped in July, posting a 46.3 drop in the month, to 5,124 units. Volvo's volume-leading XC90 SUV fell 42.6 percent in the month, to 1,546.
Some good news
Ford's car sales for the month rose 7.8 percent, to 57,177 units.
The compact Focus had another solid month, with sales of 15,200 units, up 15.6 percent. Ford's Fusion sedan was up 13.5 percent for the month, bringing sales to 10,607.
Sales of SUVs and trucks continued to wither. Ford said SUV sales declined 54.4 percent in July and were down 37.0 percent in the first seven months of 2008 compared with the same period of last year. Ford said total light truck sales fell 22.1 percent to 99,229, down from 127,309 units in July 2007.
Ford's F-series pickups dropped 20.6 percent in July, to 44,829 units. Sales of the Expedition SUV were down 57.5 percent, and sales of the Explorer dropped 51.8 percent.
July marked the debut of Ford's Flex crossover and the Lincoln MKS. Ford sold 2,204 Flexes in the month. The MKS helped make Lincoln Ford's strongest brand, although that's a dubious distinction.
Lincoln sales were off only 1.2 percent in July from a month ago. Year-to-date, Lincoln sales are still down 20.1 percent.
The Mercury Milan was down 17.5 percent for the month, but still remains the brand's only model that is up for the year -- barely. Sales of the Milan year-to-date are up 0.9 percent, to 22,262.
Just after Ford released its sales data, Fitch Ratings downgraded Ford's credit rating to a B-, from a B. It did the same to Ford Motor Credit Co.
July was especially dark for GM. Without the aggressive incentives it put in place in June, its truck sales fell 36.4 percent, to 116,487. Even its car sales fell 12.0 percent to 116,853 units.
That marks an important but painful shift for GM. Cars made up just over 50 percent of total U.S. light vehicle sales last month. In July of 2007, cars accounted for just 42 percent of GMs sales.
GMs best-selling vehicle, the Chevrolet Silverado pickup, was off 29.8 percent last month, to 32,989.
Still, some of GMs cars posted big gains. The redesigned Chevrolet Malibu was up 78.6 percent compared with the previous-generation model. The Saturn Aura was up 23.6 percent, to 7,202 units, and the Chevrolet Cobalt was up 3.5 percent to 16,410 units.
The Buick brand had a terrible month: off 39.9 percent. Things at Hummer were even worse, with just 1,877 sales in July down 61.7 percent from July 2007.
Tough times at Chrysler
Only five Chrysler LLC models escaped double-digit declines for July: the Chrysler Town & Country; the Dodge Avenger, Caliber and Viper; and the Jeep Wrangler.
Chryslers car sales were almost as bad as its truck sales, dropping 28.2 percent to 29,056 units. Chryslers truck sales fell 29.0 percent to 69,053 units.
The company unveiled new incentives today to help stanch the losses and move inventory. Chrysler Financial stopped leasing vehicles, effective today.
Meanwhile, reliance on cars helped Volkswagen of America Inc. in July. Its sales rose 1.4 percent compared with last year, to 27,441 units. Through July, VW sold 189,616 vehicles, a decline of 0.1 percent from a year ago.
VW's best-selling vehicle, the Jetta, sold well in the face of high fuel prices. Its sales rose 14.7 percent last month, to 9,245. The company's smaller cars also did well, with sales of the GTI rising 31.4 percent to 1,619. Coupled with an increase in sales of the R32, that more than offsets the 19.2 percent decline in sales of the Rabbit.
The Tiguan, VW's new small SUV, sold 846 units. Sales of its larger SUV, the Touareg, were down 30.1 percent to 404 units.
VW's numbers include Audi and Bentley. Audi's sales fell 4.5 percent last month.
Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz unit also had a good month. U.S. sales rose 11.6 percent to 20,733. The first seven months of 2008 were the best in Mercedes' history, the company said.
Porsche sales were down 3 percent to 3,230 on a slip in sales of its Cayenne SUV. Porsche's car sales were up slightly.
Executives tried to stay optimistic on calls with reporters and analysts today, but it was hard to hide the bleak state of the industry.
"Over the next year, the unfolding credit situation customers are taking with them into dealerships will take center stage," Ford marketing chief Jim Farley said.
Toyota Division general manager Bob Carter said, The auto industry remained in lockstep with the challenges faced by the overall economy.
While the economy was boosted by the economic stimulus package, and second-quarter spending grew at a faster clip, the rise in consumer spending mostly went toward food and gasoline, while cars are on the sidelines, Carter said. Big-ticket items, and specifically automobiles, arent enjoying any kind of recovery.
Carter described the current sales environment as a short-term hurdle that we need to get through.
That said, the industry is seeing the total volume numbers suppressed by inventory availabilities. We are trying to increase all our four-cylinders. If we had more (four-cylinder) product, we would have sold more product, Carter said.
Mark Rechtin, Craig Trudell and Richard Truett contributed to this report