General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. posted their smallest U.S. sales gains of the year, while America Honda Co. and Toyota Motor declined as July results fell short of forecasts.

Total industry sales advanced 5 percent from a year earlier for the smallest monthly increase since January. The seasonally adjusted annual selling rate was 11.55 million, the year’s third highest.

Some analysts had projected July would be the strongest month since last August, when the federal government’s cash-for-clunkers incentive lifted the industry from its worst slump in almost 30 years.

Demand cooled during the second half of last month after a sharp gain in retail sales at the start of July, J.D. Power and Associates said today.

“Softening of sales as July progressed indicates some vulnerability in the market, likely brought on by the lack of escalating incentive levels,” said Jeff Schuster, Power’s executive director of global forecasting.

GM, Ford rise; Toyota down

GM sold 199,602 cars and light trucks on its way to a 6 percent July gain. Among GM’s surviving brands, Chevrolet sales rose 12 percent and GMC advanced 32 percent. Sales at Buick and Cadillac more than doubled, boosted by demand for new models such as the Buick LaCrosse sedan and Cadillac SRX crossover.

The automaker said 50,048 of the surviving brands’ sales went to fleets.

Despite broad signs the economic recovery is slowing, GM said it was keeping its forecast for full-year industrywide U.S. auto sales at 11.3 million to 11.8 million light vehicles. The company also said incentives were in line with the industry average.

“From our perspective, we see little risk” of a double-dip recession, “absent some external shock,” said Don Johnson, GM’s head of U.S. sales.

Ford’s 3 percent gain was its smallest since November. The results include Volvo, which was formally acquired yesterday by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group.

Combined sales of the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands rose 5 percent last month and have jumped 24 percent for the year to date. Ford was helped last month by strong demand for the F-series pickup, the new Taurus sedan and the new Fiesta subcompact.

Ford sold 50,449 F-series pickups in July, the first time since March 2008 that monthly sales topped 50,000.

Sales at Mercury slumped 31 percent in July, the first full month since Ford announced plans to shutter the brand.

Toyota Motor Corp.’s July sales dropped 3 percent, while Honda Motor Co. saw demand slip 2 percent, largely reflecting double-digit declines in sales of the Civic and Accord.

Toyota said it was hurt by a 10 percent drop in Toyota brand car sales compared with July 2009, when passenger cars such as the Yaris and Corolla were in demand at the start of cash for clunkers.

Nissan Motor Co.’s July sales climbed 15 percent.

“Nissan stands out in July, spending the highest amount ever on incentives and seeing its highest lease percentage ever,” Edmunds.com analyst Michelle Krebs said in a statement. A third of Nissan’s transactions were leases, she said.

Chrysler reported a 5 percent gain in July sales.

At Hyundai Group, demand for cars and light trucks, including those of the Kia brand, rose 20 percent last month, extending the automaker’s recent sales gains.

Volkswagen Group reported a 17 percent sales gain for July. Subaru said its sales rose 10 percent.

The average of eight analysts surveyed by Bloomberg projected July’s seasonally adjusted rate at 11.9 million vehicles. In July 2009, the pace as tallied by Automotive News was 11.1 million. Last August’s clunkers frenzy inflated sales to a 13.7 million SAAR.

Analysts surveyed by Reuters expected a SAAR of 11.4 million in July. Reuters said the monthly sales total would top 1 million for the third time this year, and it did — barely – at 1.05 million.

Fuente: Automotive News (03/08/2010).