Automakers Record Higher Sales in June, as Signs of Slowing Emerge

auto car sales
auto car sales

Automakers reporting June sales results Thursday painted a mixed picture for the economy, one that show signs of weakening even as they moved more cars off dealers' lots. Ford Motor (F), General Motors, Toyota Motor (TM) and others reported higher sales than a year ago, when the industry was in steep decline, but in most instances sold fewer vehicles than in May.

GM was the first to report, saying sales rose an overall 10.7%, after factoring in its orphaned Hummer, Pontiac, Saab and Saturn brands. Among its remaining four core brands -- Buick, Cadillac, GMC and Chevrolet -- sales rose nearly 36% compared to year-ago levels. For the month, the Detroit-based automaker sold 195,380 vehicles, up from 176,571 a year ago, but down 13% from May when it sold nearly 224,000 vehicles.

In a conference call with investors and the media, U.S. sales vice president Steve Carlisle said the company sees "no significant changes in economic conditions" since the company's last sales call held in early in June. Recent economic news, including strength in corporate profits and a rebound in manufacturing, affirms that the nation is in slow recovery, Carlisle said.

Data showing slow growth in consumer spending and employment, however, are indications that the transition to a better economy will likely not be smooth, and the company anticipates "some volatility," he said. Carlisle said GM's outlook for total yearly output for the industry remains unchanged at 11.5 million to 12 million units.

The Automaker Roundup

The story was similar at Ford, which reported higher year-over-year sales in June, but moved 13% fewer cars and trucks than May. For the month, Ford delivered a total 170,900 cars and trucks, up 15.4% compared to the 148,153 sold in June 2009. In May, Ford sold more than 192,000 cars and trucks.

Within its divisions, the company said namesake Ford brand sales rose 16.2%, while those at luxury-division Lincoln slumped 11.5% for the month, compared to a year ago. Mercury, meanwhile gained 26.2%, but sold just 9,250 vehicles. Ford announced plans to cease building Mercury cars and SUVs last month. For the year, Ford said overall sales are up 28% above last year's levels.

Struggling Chrysler Group said year-over-year sales of its cars and trucks rose 35% in June. The Auburn Hills, Mich.-based company sold 92,482 vehicles, compared to 68,297 in June 2009. But sales were down 12% from May's total of 104,819. June was the second month of improved year-over-year sales for Chrysler, which exited bankruptcy protection a year ago last month.

Toyota said it sold 140,604 cars and trucks, during the month, an increase of 6.8% above June 2009. Its namesake Toyota division posted June sales of 123,272 cars and trucks, up 7.4% from last year. Sales of Lexus cars and SUVs rose just 2.7% over the year-ago month. Though higher than last year's levels, Toyota's June sales were down 13.6% from the nearly 163,000 units sold in May, itself an unexceptional month for the world's largest automaker.

So far this year, Toyota has sold 846,542 cars and trucks, up 10.6% compared to 2009, after adjusting for one less selling day this year. "Toyota performed well during the first half of the year, despite a difficult economic environment," said Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., in a statement announcing the figures. He said the "entire automotive industry struggled in June as weakening consumer confidence weighed on sales."

Toyota has been hobbled by massive recalls of its cars and trucks for safety problems, and more appear to be on the way. The company said Thursday about 270,000 cars sold worldwide -- including luxury Lexus sedans -- have potentially faulty engines. A spokesman said the company was evaluating measures to deal with the problem of defective engines that can stall while the vehicle is moving. He wouldn't confirm a recall was being considered, The Associated Press reported.

As with Toyota, Honda Motor (HMC) reported a smaller percentage increase in sales than the Big Three, gaining just 6.2% compared to a year ago. For the month, the Japanese car maker sold 106,627 vehicles, up from 100,420 a year ago. Sales at its luxury Acura division, however, surged 30.9% to 10,839. When compared to May, overall Honda sales fell 9%.

South Korean automakers Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors reported exceptional gains in June compared to a year ago. Hyundai said U.S. sales rose 35% to 51,205 vehicles from 37,943 a year-ago period, on strength of its Sonata and Elantra car models. It was also one few automakers to actually sell more cars in June than in May, when it sold just over 49,000 units. Hyundai's sister company, Kia, said it delivered 31,906 cars and trucks, a 18.9% sales rise from 26,845 a year ago. Kia sales slipped only fractionally from the 31,431 it sold in May.

Nissan Motors said its June sales rose nearly 11% compared to last year, selling 64,570 cars and trucks. As with Acura, sales of luxury vehicles rose more than 31%, with Nissan's luxury division Infiniti moving 8,304 units. Nissan said all its truck models, which include SUVs and crossovers, such as the popular compact Rogue, showed gains.

Subaru recorded its best June ever, with sales increasing 16% above year-ago levels, the Japanese automaker said. Demand for the company's products remained strong despite tight inventories, said Tim Colbeck, senior vice president of sales, Subaru of America. Despite the milestone, Subaru sales were fewer than those in May, when the company sold nearly 24,000 cars.

Among German makes, Mercedes-Benz said it sold 18,997 vehicles, a 25.4% increase from June 2009, while Volkswagen said its sales rose 10.6% to 21,051 units. Porsche more than doubled its sales, selling 2,141 cars and SUVs, up from 902 a year ago, while BMW sales rose 15%.