August 1, 2014 at 1:00 am

Chrysler's sales rise 19.7%; Ford climbs 9.6%; GM up 9.4%

Car buyers drove SUVs off dealer lots at a brisk pace in July, as Detroit’s automakers and most others posted healthy sales gains. Sales were buoyed by low-interest financing, lease deals and July 4 sales promotions that in some cases lasted half of the month.

Chrysler Group LLC, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. all posted year-over-year July sales gains Friday, led by Chrysler’s nearly 20 percent rise over July 2013.

U.S. auto sales overall increased 9.1 percent in July, as consumers bought nearly 1.44 million new cars, trucks and SUVs, according to Autodata Corp.

Buyers appeared — yet again — to shrug off concerns about GM’s record-breaking recalls. The Detroit-based automaker sold 256,160 vehicles last month, up 9.4 percent from July 2013.

GM said the month was paced by sales of 100,122 crossovers and SUVs, marking the best month for those classes of vehicles since August 2007. Crossover sales rose 26 percent and SUV sales jumped 32 percent. Combined sales of its big SUVs, including the newly redesigned 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe and Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon, climbed 25 percent.

The company’s Buick, Chevrolet and GMC brands all posted gains; Cadillac sales fell 2.6 percent.

“Sales of utility vehicles soared in July because American families feel better about the economy than they have in a long time, and they are finding an incredible variety of redesigned and all-new models in our showrooms,” Kurt McNeil, GM’s U.S. vice president of sales operations, said in a statement.

Ford reported a 9.5 percent rise in U.S. sales to 211,467, its best July in eight years. The Escape had its best month ever, with sales increasing 18.9 percent. Explorer SUV sales jumped 31.8 percent and sales of the Expedition, Ford’s full-size SUV, rose a whopping 59.3 percent. The Lincoln brand was up 13.6 percent, thanks to the recent introduction of the MKC SUV.

Larry Dominique, vice president of auto research firm TrueCar Inc. and president of ALG, said the popularity of sport utilities was helped by all the new models being released this year. “The products out there are the best products we’ve ever had,” he said in a telephone interview. “You’re not really trading off anything from a fuel economy standpoint.”

Demand for luxury

Analysts say auto sales growth this year has been driven by buyers’ higher demand for luxury vehicles and the popularity of small and midsize SUVs.

“You’re seeing some customers who may have considered a car coming into the (SUV) segment as new products are launched to take advantage of increased fuel economy,” John Felice, Ford vice president for U.S. marketing, sales and service, said in a call with analysts and reporters.

Chrysler’s July sales rose 19.7 percent to 167,667, with each of its brands increasing sales as it marked its best July since 2005. Jeep led the way with a nearly 41 percent sales increase, thanks largely to the Cherokee compact SUV that was introduced earlier this year.

Sales at Toyota Motor Sales USA jumped 11.6 percent from the same period a year ago. With 215,802 sold, it eclipsed Ford for the month, giving the Japanese automaker second place for U.S. sales for the month. The Camry was a strong seller, and all-time monthly sales were reported for the RAV4 compact SUV, up 37.1 percent from the same month a year ago.

“The small-crossover segment remains red hot,” Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager of the Toyota division, said Friday.

Fay said Toyota likely could have sold more RAV4 SUVs if it had them. He said supplies of the RAV4 should increase in the second half of the year.

Automakers optimistic

Automakers, including Ford, GM and Toyota, remain optimistic about the outlook for the U.S. sales the remainder of the year, citing high consumer confidence, low jobless rate and lots of pent-up demand.

“The economy has bounced back strongly from the harsh winter, consumer confidence has reached a post-recession high, energy prices remain moderate and job growth continues. The stage is set for strong sales through the balance of the year,” GM’s McNeil said in a statement. “In particular, there is a lot of pent-up demand for our new large SUVs, and we expect pickup deliveries to be strong, as they usually are in the second half of the year.”

TrueCar Inc. estimated that average sales incentives were $2,731 per vehicle in July, up 7.1 percent from July 2013.

AutoTrader.com’s senior analyst, Michelle Krebs, said automakers are applying incentives strategically.“They’re not just slapping them on across the board as we saw pre-recession,” she told reporters Friday. “We’re seeing much more discipline.”

Sales of full-size trucks slowed a bit: Chrysler’s Ram trucks gained 13.8 percent and Chevrolet Silverado sales remained flat, while GMC Sierra sales rose 5.5 percent. Ford F-Series sales increased 4.6 percent.

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