Welcome to the new, murky world of U.S. auto sales.
If you look only at the companies that continue to report on a monthly basis, you might tip your hat to an industry that posted its first monthly sales gain of the year in July. Big gains by Subaru and the Hyundai brand helped the market inch ahead of its July 2018 tally by 1.3 percent.
But it would be wise to hold off on any champagne, even if the Federal Reserve cut interest rates — by a quarter point — the day before sales results were announced last week.
That's because the officially reported total now excludes the Detroit 3 — companies that no longer report monthly sales in their home market — as well as Tesla. Through the first half of the year, those companies accounted for about 45 percent of U.S. sales.
So depending on which estimates you believe, the market finally broke out of a slump or is on the brink of matching its longest losing streak to start a year since the Great Recession (eight months, in 2017).
For its part, Automotive News estimated a 7.2 percent gain for General Motors and declines of 0.4 percent at Ford Motor Co. and 1.7 percent at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, for an overall industry advance of 1.2 percent.
Also estimated is a seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of 16.8 million. That would mark the fourth month this year the SAAR has come in below 17 million.
The industry hasn't finished below 17 million on an annual basis since 2014.
Still, the results — as limited as they were — supported some ongoing trends.
Winning brands kept winning. Hyundai extended its stretch of monthly gains to 12, thanks to a fresh lineup of crossovers and a 12 percent July advance. And Subaru lengthened its industry-leading winning streak to 92 months.
Light trucks continued to dominate, while large and midsize cars continued to plunge. Small entry models, however, held their own as affordability increasingly becomes a factor.
At Toyota Motor North America, the biggest of the companies reporting for July, combined sales of Toyota and Lexus rose 0.2 percent.
The Toyota brand bucked two industry trends. Its light-truck sales slid 2.2 percent, despite a 17 percent surge in Tundra pickup deliveries. And robust sales of the Corolla, Camry and Avalon sedans powered a 5.1 percent increase in cars.
Meanwhile, Toyota's luxury Lexus brand notched its own counterintuitive win: Sales dropped 1.5 percent, despite the addition of 1,403 sales courtesy of the new UX compact crossover, but the brand's 25,025 deliveries outpaced those of bigger rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz during the month. With July in the books, BMW now leads Mercedes by nearly 7,500 vehicles in the race for the top-selling luxury brand.
While automakers like the profit potential in rising transaction prices, those prices are pressuring consumers two ways: At one end, more buyers are opting for low-priced cars. At the other, they are signing on to extended loan terms to keep payments down on larger, more expensive vehicles.
In some cases, those terms are running out to 84 months, S&P Global Ratings said last week.
"We believe longer-term loans will become increasingly popular among the auto manufacturers' captive finance companies," S&P said in a statement.
"This increases credit risk and is causing losses to be more back-loaded in U.S. prime auto loan asset-backed securities."
In July, small cars sometimes buoyed the brands that offer them.
Volume edged up 0.6 percent at Kia, thanks in part to the Rio subcompact's 23 percent sales gain. Sales of the Forte small car increased 22 percent to 9,172 vehicles for the month — snagging it a place as the brand's top-selling nameplate.
"Strong sales of some small cars may suggest that affordability shoppers have not entirely abandoned the new-vehicle market," Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist at Cox Automotive, said in a statement. "Given the strength of used-vehicle prices, and supply constraints limiting selection, more interest in lower-priced new vehicles is not surprising."