U.S. light vehicle sales, led by Ford Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co., rose 9 percent in June, easily topping many forecasts and providing fresh signs that the industry's recovery will remain robust in the second half of the year.
The seasonally adjusted annual sales rate -- a key barometer of the U.S. auto industry's overall health -- surged above the sunniest projections to 15.98 million, from 14.4 million a year ago.
The June SAAR marks a new high in the current recovery cycle and the industry's strongest sales pace since late 2007. The SAAR has now topped 15 million units every month but one -- April -- starting in November 2012.
"The industry had a great month in June, easily the best June in six years. We were within a tipping point of that magical 16 million [SAAR] mark," said Bill Fay, general manager of the Toyota division. "We expect the momentum to roll into the rest of the summer."
U.S. sales have now advanced 8 percent this year to 7.8 million. Analysts expect U.S. light-vehicle volume to reach 15.3 million to 15.5 million for the year, compared with 14.49 million in 2012.
"America's families are better off than they were at the beginning of the year and they believe -- with good justification -- that the economic expansion is going to continue," General Motors' chief economist, Mustafa Mohatarem, said in a statement. "Even moderate economic growth will be enough to keep the auto sales rate in the second half of the year at healthy levels around the mid 15 million-unit mark."
Among major automakers, Ford Motor and Nissan Motor deliveries increased 13 percent, while volumes at Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. rose 10 percent.
At GM, sales advanced 7 percent from a year earlier, while Chrysler gained 8 percent.
Subaru finished the first half with an industry-leading 25 percent gain, thanks to a 42 percent June increase propelled by the redesigned Forester and all-new XV Crosstrek.
Two other companies that have been among the industry's biggest winners in recent years -- Volkswagen Group and Hyundai-Kia -- continued to struggle, managing tiny June gains.
Truck demand set the pace for sales at the Detroit 3, while new models or redesigned cars or crossovers helped nearly every brand.
Chrysler's 8 percent increase was led by a gain of 23 percent at the Ram truck brand and an 11 percent advance in car deliveries. Ford tallied a 24 percent jump in F-Series pickups.
GM's deliveries of the Chevrolet Silverado advanced 29 percent and GMC Sierra volume rose 32 percent. Sales rose 5 percent at GMC, 7 percent at Chevrolet and 15 percent at Cadillac, while Buick deliveries slipped 4 percent.
GM said its retail sales rose 14 percent while fleet shipments declined 9 percent.
At Chrysler, light truck volume rose 7 percent, with Ram pickup deliveries jumping 24 percent to nearly 30,000 units.
June marked Chrysler Group's 39th consecutive monthly increase in U.S. sales.
Fundamentals in place
"The fundamentals for continued industry gains in new vehicle sales remain intact," Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales for Chrysler Group, said in a statement.
Volume rose 1 percent at the Fiat and Chrysler brands, and 12 percent at Dodge, while Jeep deliveries were up slightly compared with June 2012, Chrysler reported.
Jeep's U.S. sales, which are off 5 percent this year, have suffered since the Liberty SUV was discontinued in August 2012.
The Liberty's replacement -- the 2014 Jeep Cherokee -- will not be widely available until the third quarter, Chrysler officials said last week.
Ford said sales of small cars -- Fiesta, Focus and C-Max -- rose 39 percent to 35,851, while deliveries of the redesigned Escape crossover increased 1 percent to a monthly record of 28,694. Lincoln volume slipped 1 percent.
U.S. light-vehicle sales had been projected to end up at 1.38 million units for the month, a 7 percent increase, based on a survey of 10 analysts by Bloomberg.
Dealers and analysts say June sales started off strong because of extended Memorial Day holiday deals and then slowed briefly before regaining momentum on early July 4 holiday incentives.
GM, Ford, and the Hyundia-Kia Group raised incentives in June compared with a year ago by 8 percent to 18 percent, TrueCar Inc. estimated today.
A surge in Elantra sales and higher demand for the redesigned Santa Fe crossover helped volume rise 2 percent to 65,007 units last month at Hyundai, despite ongoing shortages of many models.
Hyundai said fleet deliveries represented 19 percent of its June volume.