In July, a gleam of sunshine pierced the black clouds that have enshrouded car and truck sales for the past year. The gleam was called cash for clunkers.
Cash for clunkers prompted the best sales month of the year with 998,062 new vehicles sold. That was up 16.0 percent from June.
More sunshine: Sales of Ford's domestic brands were up 1.6 percent over last year; including Volvo, the company's gain was 2.4 percent. This was Ford's first year-to-year increase since November 2007.
But let's not get carried away. Industrywide, sales still dropped 12.2 percent below last year's relatively weak July total. And seven-month sales of 5,808,394 trailed 32.1 percent behind 2008.
Hyundai-Kia Automotive posted a 9.0 percent gain in July. But the five other members of the Big 7 -- General Motors, Toyota Motor Sales, American Honda Motor Co., Chrysler Group and Nissan North America -- failed to match last July's sales.
For 40 of the 47 makes charted by Automotive News, sales in July dropped from July 2008. Subaru, which has defied the marketwide sales collapse all year, was the king of the monthly gainers, up 34.2 percent. With 21,839 sales, Subaru had its best month ever in the United States, edging out December 2006.
Subaru is the only make that has gained for the year to date, up 4.3 percent.
In July, Volvo's sales soared 25.7 percent as big incentives led to big gains by the 60 series. Hyundai jumped 11.9 percent. Also up were Mercury, Kia, Ford division and Volkswagen division.
For the first time this year, the seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales topped 10 million, coming in at 11.1 million, up from 9.5 million in June.
The 11.1 million is puny compared with last year's actual sales of 13.2 million and 2007's 16.2 million. But for six months this year, the industry was selling at an annual rate below 10 million. Breaking the 10 million barrier takes a monkey off its back, and the extension of cash for clunkers augurs well for August.
Cars pad lead
If you have been following the monthly sales figures, you probably have concluded that the truck boom is over.
The demise started with last summer's $4-a-gallon gasoline. Last month, cars took 57.9 percent of the market, leaving 42.1 percent for trucks. It was the biggest share for cars since June 2008, when gasoline prices peaked.
Cars are increasing their advantage month by month. They had 54.3 percent of the market for the first seven months of this year, compared with 53.2 percent for all of 2008.
Cars are re-establishing their market dominance, which presents a challenge to the Detroit 3 with their strength in pickups and SUVs. Last month, GM, Ford and Chrysler's domestics had only 31.1 percent of car sales. The other 68.9 percent of car sales were by import-badged companies.
Nonetheless, the Detroit 3's domestic brands actually gained a point of total car and light-truck market share, to 43.6 percent. When GM's Saab and Ford's Volvo units are included, the Detroit 3 had 44.3 percent of the market.
In July, Ford Motor's stronger month picked up 2.3 points of market share, to 16.5 percent; market leader GM lost 1.7 points, to 18.9 per- cent; and Chrysler gained 0.3 point, to 8.9 percent.
Japanese automakers finished July with 41.1 percent of the market, down 1.9 points, even though Toyota picked up 0.1 point and trailed GM by only 1.4 points. The score: GM, 18.9 percent; Toyota, 17.5.
In the good old days, the Ford and Chevrolet brands battled for first place in sales each year. This time, Ford is in another battle, but its opponent for No. 1 is Toyota.
Through July a year ago, Toyota was nearly 88,000 units ahead of Ford. This year through seven months, it's essentially a dead heat. Toyota led Ford by just 4,161 units after winning by 7,950 in July.
Through July, third-place Chevrolet was more than 81,000 behind Ford.