Halfway through the year, automakers remain on pace to sell the most cars, trucks and crossovers in the United States in at least a decade.
Compared to the same period a year ago, sales were up 4.4 percent to 8.52 million vehicles for the first six months of 2015, according to Autodata Corp.
"With stable gas prices and interest rates, the industry looks well on its way to its best year since 2005 and possibly since 2001," Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager of the Toyota division for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., said in a call with reporters.
Automakers sold 16.94 million vehicles in 2005; they last topped the 17 million mark in 2001, when the industry sold 17.18 million new cars and trucks. Last year, 16.52 million cars and trucks were sold in the United States.
The strong first half of the year has some analysts increasing their full-year sales forecasts because July and August are typically big-selling months. The National Automobile Dealers Association this week raised its annual sales forecast to 17.17 million vehicles from its earlier 16.94 million forecast. Kelley Blue Book last week increased its outlook to 17.1 million from 16.9 million. IHS Automotive and TrueCar Inc. predict 17.1 million cars and trucks will be sold.
For the first six months of 2015, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sales are up 6.1 percent, General Motors Co. sales are up 3.4 percent and Ford Motor Co. sales are up 1.8 percent. Buyers continue to purchase more trucks, crossovers and SUVs in favor of cars — a trend automakers and analysts expect to continue, especially because trucks typically are stronger sellers in the second half of the year.
"We just wrapped up the U.S. auto industry's best six months in a decade, driven by strong demand for pickups and crossovers," said Kurt McNeil, GM's U.S. vice president of sales operations. "People feel good about their jobs and the direction the economy as a whole is taking, so the second half of the year should be strong, too."
June sales rose 3.9 percent to nearly 1.48 million, according to Autodata Corp., as customers flocked to dealer lots to buy small SUVs like the Jeep Renegade and Honda HR-V, plus other new offerings like the Ford Edge and refreshed Explorer.
FCA sales jumped 8 percent for the Auburn Hills company's best June since 2006, pushing its consecutive monthly sales gain streak to 63. Ford reported a 1.6 percent sales increase last month, led by Ford SUVs posting their best June in more than a decade.
GM, which sold 259,353 vehicles and saw a 3 percent sales decline year-over-year, said fleet sales were down 29 percent or 21,366 vehicles compared to last June, mainly due to a planned reduction in rental sales. GM, with three of four brands posting sales declines in June, said its sales to individual customers rose 7 percent in June.
Kelley Blue Book estimates that average sales prices hit $33,340 in June, up $821 from a year ago.
"There's this underlying strength in the market and it's not being artificially juiced by outlandish incentives and fleets," said Michelle Krebs, AutoTrader senior analyst, in a call with reporters.
Ford sold 224,681 cars and trucks last month, including higher-profit vehicles like trucks and SUVs. Sales of the Lincoln luxury brand rose 14.5 percent.
According to Ford, Ford brand SUV sales were up 10 percent last month for the automaker's best June since 2002. F-Series sales were down 8.9 percent, but Ford said F-Series average transaction prices reached an all-time record in June, moving above $44,000 per truck — $3,600 higher than last year.
"The weakness in F-150 has everything to do with inventory," said Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book. Gutierrez said F-150s are sitting on dealer lots for less than 20 days and Ford pulled back on incentives.
GM's Chevrolet Silverado sales rose 18.4 percent, while GMC Sierra sales rose 20.8 percent in June. Ram pickup sales were up 0.6 percent year-over-year. Gutierrez said Silverado and Sierra had ample inventory and a good mix, which aided sales.
Light trucks represented 54.2 percent of the market in June, up 11.4 percent.
Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president, U.S. marketing, sales and service, said Ford started June with 75,000 trucks, about half of what it had at this time last year. He said he hopes to reach inventory levels of between 120,000-140,000 trucks by the end of the third quarter.
FCA said its sales to individual buyers narrowly beat Ford for the first time, but the company would not release exact figures. Ford did not respond to the claim.
FCA's June sales were led by the Chrysler brand, which recorded a 28.2 percent sales gain. Jeep and Ram brands also posted increases, while sales for the Fiat and Dodge brands both fell.
Hyundai Motor America said it had its best June ever, posting 67,502 sales, up 95 vehicles from the same month a year ago. Kia Motors America reported best-ever June sales, up 6.9 year-over-year, and said its sales are up 4.6 percent year-to-date.
American Honda Motor Co. Inc. said its June sales increased to 134,397 vehicles. Honda brand sales rose 0.9 percent as Honda trucks had a record June, up 18 percent as the new HR-V small SUV sales totaled more than 7,700. Acura brand sales jumped nearly 39 percent.
Nissan Motor Co. reported a sales increase of 13.3 percent, its best June ever.
Eric Lyman, vice president of industry insights for TrueCar, said June sales came in a little lighter than projected. He said the Fourth of July weekend will be a good barometer for July.
"The next two months will really set the pace for the rest of the year," he said.