Pickups and crossovers were big reasons that new-vehicle sales rose more than expected in the first half of 2013.
Home builders, small-business owners and consumers who waited years to replace their aging pickups finally feel confident enough in their finances to buy shiny new trucks, helping the Detroit 3 gain market share and profits.
"Rising home prices and burgeoning construction activity have pickup trucks flying off dealer lots," Peter Nesvold, an analyst with Jefferies & Co., wrote in a report last week.
Overall, light-truck demand has increased 12 percent this year while car deliveries have climbed just 4 percent in a market that has expanded 8 percent. But cars are still outselling light trucks this year -- 4 million to 3.8 million.
Automakers have sold more than 1 million pickups this year through June, the first time the segment hit that milestone at the midway point since 2008. Sales of full-sized pickups rose 24 percent in June and 22 percent in the first six months of the year.
General Motors started shipping its redesigned Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra to dealerships in June, though nearly all of its sales for the month were the old models.
Compact crossovers also are hot, with sales increasing 21 percent in June and 21 percent on the year. The redesigned Ford Escape, up 1 percent in June, has posted a 23 percent gain year-to-date, despite concerns that several major recalls shortly after its launch would deter buyers.
Demand for luxury crossovers has been on the rise as well, up 10 percent year-to-date, although luxury cars have lagged the rest of the market. Sales of all luxury cars have increased 6 percent on the year, lagging the market's overall gain of 8 percent, with most of the growth coming from smaller models such as the Cadillac ATS and Lexus ES.
Nonluxury large crossovers -- Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer and the Mazda CX-9, among others -- have had sales advance 16 percent this year.
After several big years for subcompact cars, that segment has cooled as gasoline prices have become more stable. Instead, consumers have been gravitating toward compact and mid-sized cars, many of which now offer the fuel economy that a subcompact did previously.
Sales have increased 8 percent for compacts and 2 percent for mid-sized cars so far this year. Subcompact sales have fallen 4 percent.
Another segment on the decline is minivans, sinking 3 percent in the first half despite a 7 percent increase in June.