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Trucks and SUVs helped automakers slow an industry-wide U.S. sales plateau through the first six months of the year, though analysts still expect full-year sales figures to come in lower than 2017.

At the mid-year point, General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles had boosted their sales, while Ford Motor Co. was down. Toyota Motor North America saw its sales increase in that time.

Automakers reach the mid-year point with uncertainty looming: Gas prices are creeping up, the average prices of vehicles are increasing, a glut of used vehicles is primed to return to the market and tariff threats grow. But automakers who have new models in showrooms are braving those headwinds.

"Consumers are benefiting from a solid labor market, eschewing concerns about rising gas prices and tariff threats, driving the market for cars and trucks, with crossovers continuing to dominate the market," said Rebecca Lindland, executive analyst for Kelley Blue Book. "Companies are keeping showrooms fresh, with a trifecta of beautiful products offering the very latest technology with appealing financing keeping consumers coming into dealerships and driving away with new vehicles."

GM's sales were up 4.2 percent through the first six months of 2018, driven by gains for Chevrolet, GMC and Cadillac, the automaker reported. Buick was the only GM brand to post a decrease, down 0.6 percent through June due to a heavy car inventory.

The Detroit automaker, which now reports sales quarterly rather than monthly, saw sales increase 4.6 percent in the second quarter. The second-quarter gain, which GM does not break out into month-by-month reports, was driven by a 6.6 increase for the automaker's GMC brand and a 6.2 increase for Chevrolet.

Ford, meanwhile, reported its sales were down 1.8 percent through the first six months of the year. The automaker moved 1,277,691 vehicles through the end of June, it reported, when sales increased by 1.2 percent. Ford has a product lineup ripe for a refresh, with new Lincoln and Ford products expected to come to market starting later this year.

For now, the automaker is leaning on F-Series and Lincoln Navigator sales to drive profits as the sales of nearly its entire car line up and most of its SUVs slip compared to a year ago.

The Dearborn-based automaker also reduced its fleet sales by 2.3 percent last month as it moves away from rental business in an effort to boost retail and residual value. The automaker has seen average transaction prices increase this year, and grown its market share, the automaker reported Tuesday.

"We go into the second half of 2018 excited," said Mark LaNeve, Ford's sales chief. "We're showing some strong momentum."

Fiat Chrysler, meanwhile, is riding a fresh Jeep lineup to a sales boom. U.S. sales were up 5 percent for the year, having moved 1,115,476 vehicles through June. June sales were up 8 percent. Sales for all of FCA's brands in June totaled 202,264. 

Fiat Chrysler's June gain came courtesy of another good month for its Jeep brand, up 19 percent. The Ram brand was up 6 percent and Dodge posted a 9 percent increase.  The Chrysler brand struggled in June, falling off the previous June's sales by 32 percent.

Toyota reported its June 2018 sales were up 3.6 percent compared to the same month a year ago, and up 3 percent through the first half of the year. The automaker reported it's riding its truck sales there: both Toyota and Lexus car sales were down 8 percent or more for the month.

Nissan Group reported Tuesday its sales for the first six months of the year are down 4.8 percent.

Analysts expected June sales to improve over the same month's performance last year, with Cox Automotive predicting a 2.1 percent overall rise in U.S. auto sales and Edmunds predicting 3.4 percent increase.

An extra selling day and an extra weekend are thought to be responsible for what would be a sizable boost compared to June 2017.

“June sales look a bit healthier than they actually are because there was an additional selling day and weekend this year,” Jeremy Acevedo, manager of industry analysis at Edmunds, said in a statement. “On a daily selling-rate basis, June sales were actually lower than last year. This is exactly in line with how the rest of this year has gone: Sales look strong, but there are other factors at play that make this success a bit fragile.”

nnaughton@detroitnews.com

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