U.S. auto sales expected to rise in June

DETROIT — U.S. auto sales grew at a slower pace in June, but a quirk of the calendar — not a lack of demand — was likely to blame.

GM, Toyota, Hyundai and Nissan all saw increases over last June. Sales at Honda were flat, while sales at Ford and Volkswagen were down.

Car buying site TrueCar.com expected U.S. sales to rise 1 percent over last June to 1.4 million cars and trucks. That was lower than May, when exuberant buyers flush with tax returns boosted sales 11 percent to 1.6 million.

May sales were helped by five sunny weekends and the Memorial Day holiday, which got June off to a slow start. But Ford’s U.S. sales chief John Felice said sales picked up at the end of last month as automakers started promoting Independence Day sales.

Analysts saw plenty to like in June. Forecasting firm LMC Automotive said automakers are carefully balancing production with demand, which has helped them maintain profits and cut back on big incentives that can eventually hurt resale values.

TrueCar estimated incentive spending rose 1.6 percent in June to an average of $2,735 per vehicle. Both GM and Nissan lowered incentives by 12 percent from last June.

While incentives may be lower, buyers are taking advantage of good lease offers and low interest rates. The average interest rate for a 60-month new car loan is 3.18 percent. Three years ago, that was closer to 5.5 percent, according to Bankrate.com.

LMC Automotive raised its full-year U.S. sales forecast from 16.1 million vehicles to 16.2 million vehicles based on the combined strength of May and June. That’s up from 15.6 million vehicles in 2013.

“The U.S. auto market is arguably in the best position and health it has been in since well before the great recession,” said Jeff Schuster, LMC’s senior vice president of forecasting

GM’s sales were up 1 percent over last June despite a continuing parade of recalls. GM’s total safety recalls for the year reached 29 million vehicles on Monday, when the automaker announced six new recalls of 8.4 million cars. Two of those recalls were for ignition switch problems, the same issue that began the company’s recall crisis in February.

Sales of GM’s best-selling vehicle, the Chevrolet Silverado pickup, were flat, but Buick and GMC brand sales were up.

Kelley Blue Book analyst Alec Gutierrez said GM is benefiting from its new lineup of SUVs, which hit the market at a time when buyers are gravitating toward bigger vehicles. Sales of the Chevrolet Tahoe large SUV nearly doubled to more than 11,000, while sales of the GMC Yukon more than doubled to 3,946. Cadillac Escalade sales were up 57 percent.

Toyota’s sales rose 3 percent as the Camry and Corolla sedans both posted double-digit gains. Sales of the new 4Runner SUV were up 42 percent.

Ford’s sales dropped 6 percent as the company cut back on discounts for the F-Series pickup, which is the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. Ford is trying to limit sales of the outgoing F-Series as it prepares to close its truck plants later this year and change over to a new, aluminum-sided F-150 pickup. F-Series sales fell 11 percent in June to 60,560.

Other automakers said:

— Chrysler’s sales jumped 9 percent in June on strong demand for the new Jeep Cherokee SUV and other models. It was the company’s strongest June since 2007, with gains for the Jeep, Ram, Dodge and Fiat brands.

— Honda’s sales were flat compared with last June. Sales of most models declined, including the Odyssey minivan and CR-V SUV, but sales of the Accord and Civic sedans were up.

— Nissan’s sales were up 5 percent on strong sales of the new Rogue SUV as well as higher car sales. Sales of the Sentra small car were up 68 percent.

— Hyundai’s sales rose 4 percent on the strength of the new Sonata sedan, which jumped 29.5 percent.

— Subaru’s sales were up 5 percent on strong demand for the new Forester, which was up 30 percent.

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