June brought another surge in new-car and -truck sales, with Ford Motor Co. showing modest growth, while General Motors was alone among the major manufacturers to record a decline.
But a closer look at the U.S. industry's sales reveals a more nuanced picture: In retail sales -- those to individual customers at dealerships -- GM was up 6.8 percent last month, better than most other automakers. Ford, hurt by a short supply of F-150 pickups, struggled in retail sales and suffered a noteworthy setback: For the first time since the tumult of the 2009 crisis, the No. 2 U.S. automaker recorded fewer retail sales than crosstown rival Fiat Chrysler.
"Retail is so much more important than overall sales," said John Krafcik, president of TrueCar, the car-shopping service. "Retail is where you see who is really performing well in terms of winning customers, and in that sense, GM had a great month."
June's sales are a reminder of how automakers often use fleet sales to manage fluctuations in demand, or sometimes mask weaknesses in their product lines.
A decade ago, when the Detroit 3 were stuck with inflexible labor agreements, they churned out far more cars than consumers were willing to buy and pushed much of the excess into rental fleets, typically at a loss.