Growth in U.S. Auto Sales Hits the Slow Lane in July

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Steven Senne/AP
By Bernie Woodall, Ben Klayman and Paul Lienert

DETROIT -- U.S. auto sales growth slowed slightly in July despite hefty discounts, with most manufacturers Friday reporting gains below expectations.

Among the major automakers, only Ford Motor (F) and Toyota Motor (TM) beat analyst estimates. Ford's sales were up 10 percent at 212,236, with Toyota's up 12 percent at 215,802.

Toyota was the No. 2 seller in July, edging past Ford, which had held that spot for the first half of this year and for 2013 overall. General Motors (GM) remained in top place.

With all of the major carmakers reporting by midday, industry sales were up 9 percent from the previous July, to 1,433,016. Analysts surveyed by Reuters had expected an 11 percent increase.

Results were mixed. Honda Motor (HMC) said July sales tumbled 8 percent to 135,908. It was the only one of the top car companies to cut incentives from June to July, with per-vehicle discounts averaging $1,754, according to research firm J.D. Power.

Average industry discounts last month rose slightly to just over $3,000 per vehicle, with Ford incentives averaging close to $3,919. Industry incentives were the highest since 2010, said Larry Dominique, president of research firm ALG.

GM, Nissan Motor, Chrysler Group and the Hyundai-Kia Group all reported higher July sales that nonetheless failed to meet analyst expectations.

GM said July sales were up 9 percent at 256,160. Also reporting increases were Chrysler, up 20 percent at 167,667; Nissan, up 11 percent at 121,452; and Hyundai-Kia, up 4 percent at 119,320.

The Volkswagen Group, which includes Audi and Porsche, said sales fell 6 percent to 49,469.

Morgan Stanley (MS) analyst Adam Jonas said growth in July slowed even further than expected, with the annualized sales rate running at 16.4 million, down from 17 million in June. Economists polled by Thomson Reuters had expected the annualized rate in July to ease slightly to 16.7 million.

With generous credit terms drawing buyers to more expensive vehicles, transaction prices in July remained firm, averaging $32,556 per vehicle, according to research firm Kelley Blue Book.

Ford said average prices on its full-size F-Series pickups topped $40,000, while GM's Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra's average prices were close to $39,000.

Sales growth of full-size pickup trucks, a bellwether for the U.S. economy, slowed in July.

Sales of Ford's best-selling F-Series rose 5 percent to 63,240 vehicles. GM's full-size Silverado had flat sales at 42,097, while the Sierra was up 5 percent to 17,488. Chrysler's Ram pickup climbed 14 percent to 35,621.

Gains in U.S. auto sales have been stronger than the overall economy since the recession. Still, the monthly figures provide an early glimpse into consumer spending.

Auto sales dropped to a low of 10.4 million vehicles in 2009 and have risen steadily since, in part because of easier credit and loans of up to 84 months. They reached 15.6 million last year.

The 10 Vehicles With the Highest Resale Value
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Growth in U.S. Auto Sales Hits the Slow Lane in July
  • MSRP: $26,495
  • Resale value retained after five years: 50.5 percent
Even under Fiat (FIATY) ownership, some elements of Dodge's mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging, He-Man-Woman-Haters-Club approach to auto sales managed to survive. The built-by-car-guys-for-car-guys Challenger and its rebooted muscle car aesthetic still lingers to lure meatheads who value racing stripes and rims over, oh, just about any other element of their vehicle.

Ordinarily, that alone wouldn't make one of these vehicles worth a second look five years from now --  even among the most superficial gearheads. But Fiat helped the Challenger smarten up a little bit by coupling a 305-horsepower V6 engine or 375-horsepower 5.7-liter V8 Hemi with loads of interior space, real-time touchscreen navigation, traffic updates, Bluetooth connectivity,  Sirius (SIRI) XM satellite radio, keyless entry/starter and a whole lot of Harman Kardon audio upgrades.

Long after Harley goes electric and all the other performance ponies start closing in on 35 to 40 miles per gallon, these updates will make a 2014 Challenger worth a half-price look.
  • MSRP: $25,575
  • Resale value retained after five years: 50.6 percent

It's not as American-made as the competing Ford F-150 or Ram, but it did just get a facelift in 2014, its first since 2006. That tells you just how little GM likes to fiddle with the third-best-selling vehicle in the country.

Its new V6 engine increases the base Silverado's brawn to 305 horsepower, but only increases its highway mileage from 22 miles per gallon in the old model to 24 mpg in the 2014. Adding updates such as Chevy's MyLink audio system with color screen, USB ports and an audio jack on top of features including Bluetooth connectivity, OnStar telematics and Sirius XM satellite radio bring the cab up to date, though. The Silverado's payload and towing capacities have never been the problem. Its antiquated features were, and the updates are far easier to resell half a decade down the road.

  • MSRP: $23,120
  • Resale value retained after five years: 50.7 percent

For all of you just catching up, the five-passenger SUV is this generation's station wagon/minivan/super-sized SUV that it's going to drive to college with, throw kegs in back of and basically sully all fairly G-rated memories of its childhood with. T

To today's parents, however, it's almost as big a step toward parenthood as actually having a child. It represents the end of freewheeling youth and light packing and ushers in an era of school, soccer practice, summer vacation and snow days. After the popular crossover's 2012 overhaul, it's only made that transition easier by adding a leather interior, heated seats and rearview windows and navigation system with controls mounted on the steering wheel. Honda also trimmed fuel efficiency to a combined 27 miles per gallon while leaving all 70 cubic feet of cargo space untouched.

  • MSRP: $23,555
  • Resale value retained after five years: 51.9 percent

Let the gearheads fight over whether the Camaro or Mustang provide more power for the money. Among those two, the Camaro gets the upper hand with a 323 horsepower, 3.6-liter V6 engine that still gets 28 miles per gallon on the highway. It also comes with fog lamps, a rear spoiler and a top that drops in 20 seconds.

A color heads-up information display on the windshield, the MyLink app center with 7-inch color touchscreen and Pandora, a rear-vision camera and Apple (AAPL) Siri Eyes Free that lets iPhone users send text messages through voice commands are just some of the perks behind the muscle. With apps for roadside assistance and diagnostics, available navigation and a remote starter, the Camaro's a whole lot more than just looks and a motor.

  • MSRP: $26,200
  • Resale value retained after five years: 52.3%

Even with only 6 percent of the U.S. truck market compared with nearly 30 percent for Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, Toyota accelerates past the Detroit Three's pickups when it comes to resale value.

Toyota's created a niche market for pickups such as the Tundra and the Tacoma and has seen its U.S. truck sales grow almost 10% year-to-date. The Tundra, much like the Silverado, hadn't had an update since 2007. It got a makeover for 2014 that mostly involves giving it a bigger grille and sprucing up the interior with more comfortable seats and touchscreen-driven tech toys. A backup camera now comes standard, as does the Entune audio and information system with touchscreen and Bluetooth connectivity. The 4.0L V6, 4.6L V8 and a 5.7L V8 engines remain, as does the pokey combined 18 miles per gallon, but the payload, towing capacity and — above all — reliability are what give the Tundra such a huge following a half-decade after its release.

  • MSRP: $53,000
  • Resale value retained after five years: 53.5 percent

Chevrolet hadn't produced a Stingray version of this vehicle since 1986, but bringing back that iconic design for 2014 just boosted this car's resale value right through its retractable roof. The pace car of last year's Indianapolis 500, the Corvette delivers on its looks with a 6.2-liter small-block V8 engine that cranks out 455 horsepower.

Unless you're the one buyer who strips this beauty down to its absolute base, chances are you're also enjoying a package that includes a Bose 10-speaker surround-sound audio system; Sirius XM satellite radio with one-year subscription and HD radio receiver; color head-up display; memory package; navigation system; heated and ventilated seats with power lumbar and bolster adjustment; and a leather-wrapped dash.

  • MSRP: $32,820
  • Resale value retained after five years: 56.2 percent

The cars with the highest resale value are almost exclusively SUVs. The 4Runner are great examples of why. It's a mix of the big school and soccer shuttle families want and the bike and kayak hauler weekend warriors crave.

Sure, it only gets a combined 20 miles per gallon, but it's a tailgater's dream with a power outlet in the cargo space for hooking up a television or other electronic devices, nearly 90 square feet of cargo room and an optional sliding cargo deck. That last feature basically takes out the need for a folding table by providing counter space strong enough to hold 400 pounds of food and beverages.

  • MSRP: $22,395
  • Resale value retained after five years: 59.1 percent

It's loud, it's not terribly reliable, it sucks up gas at a combined 19 miles per gallon and it doesn't store a whole lot unless you get the stretched out Unlimited version. That said, nothing looks quite like it and nothing's an acceptable off-road substitute at this price.

The ground clearance and four-wheel drive come in awfully handy in miserable winter weather, while that removable hardtop makes it a sweet open-air ride in the summer. Car-buyers don't pick up a used Wrangler because they want to truck the kids around or make grocery runs. They buy it because they want a Jeep and all the frivolities that go along with it.

  • MSRP: $18,125
  • Resale value retained after five years: 61.9 percent

The Tacoma has taken this award 10 times for one big reason: You can pound on it all you want and it just keeps coming back for more. Durability is a big deal in the Tacoma's world, where car-buyers who don't feel they need all the size and strength of a Ford F-Series or Chevy Silverado are drawn to its off-road agility, flexible cargo options and easy handling.

At a combined 23 miles per gallon, the base model Tacoma gets the mileage of a small SUV without sacrificing any of its midsized truck power. When you're content with fetching big items from the hardware store or taking a load of leaf litter to the dump without flashing chrome or flexing muscle, this is the understated truck to buy, even if it's secondhand.

  • MSRP: $27,680
  • Resale value retained after five years: 70 percent

No other vehicle comes close to the ridiculous resale value of Toyota's odd-looking, amphibious landing vehicle of a midsize SUV.

Its available four-wheel-drive system, hefty 260-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 engine and 5,000 pounds of towing capacity are beastly, while its interior is made for messy adventures. Rubber floors and water-resistant seat fabric are made to withstand mud, ash and anything else you track in. Meanwhile, its has enough gauges to make sure you never get too lost on your backwoods outings. It's an outdoor workhorse without equal, which is why buyers will still pay dearly for it after a half-decade of rugged outings.

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