U.S. car makers make gains in July

NEW YORK, August 2011 (AFP) – The United States’s big three car makers enjoyed rising US sales in July despite a weak economy and consumer anxiety over the debt-ceiling standoff in Washington, the companies said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Japanese auto makers continued to struggle with fallout from the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, as Toyota reclaimed the third-place spot in US vehicle sales from Chrysler.

Total car and light truck sales for all manufacturers climbed 0.9 percent last month compared to July 2010, and 0.6 percent compared to June, according to industry data compiled by Autodata.

“The pace of the recovery may be slower than what we previously expected,” said Don Johnson, vice president for sales at GM.

The debt-ceiling standoff in Washington impacted consumer confidence, which was already shaken by high oil prices, Johnson said in a conference call.

“Any additional uncertainty is not good for us,” he said.

GM held its status as the United States’ top automaker with 214,915 vehicles sold in July, a gain of 7.8 percent from July 2010.

Sales of the company’s GMC pickups soared 36 percent, while Chevrolet sales climbed 6.5 percent, GM said, noting particularly strong sales for its Chevrolet Cruze sedan.

“This shows a complete shift in focus for this company once known mostly for its trucks and SUVs, and—like its rival Ford – demonstrates strength in both ends of the product portfolio,” said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with Edmunds.com, referring to the strength of Cruze sales.

GM has returned to profitability since emerging from government-sponsored bankruptcy reorganization in 2009.

Ford took the number-two spot, selling 180,865 vehicles in July, an increase of 9 percent from a year ago.

Disaster-struck Toyota reported that it sold 130,802 vehicles in the United States last month, which represented a steep decrease of 23 percent from the level of July 2010, but a gain of 18 percent from June of this year.

“For the second straight month, Toyota posted a month-to-month sales gain as inventories continued to recover,” Jeff Bracken, vice president in charge of sales of Toyota-branded cars in the United States, said in a statement.

The 9.0-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit Japan in March hammered Toyota’s production lines, shattered supply chains and crippled power-generating facilities.

Chrysler, which is owned by Italy’s Fiat, took fourth place with US vehicle sales of 112,026 in July, an increase of 20 percent from a year ago, largely driven by strong demand for its iconic Jeep brand.

Nissan sold 84,601 vehicles in the United States last month, a year-on-year increase of 2.7 percent, while Honda’s US sales plunged 28.4 percent over the same period to 80,502.

South Korean car maker Hyundai said its US sales climbed 10.1 percent to 59,561, while Kia said its sales surged 28.5 percent to 45,504.

Germany’s Volkswagen reported that its US vehicle sales rose 21.7 percent in July to 29,066. ■


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