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July sales strong overall, but Ford and GM slide

Kurt McNeil, VP of Sales at General Motors, discuss GM's July sales numbers, with CNBC's Phil LeBeau.

While overall US. car sales appear to have jumped again in July, it wasn’t a good month for two of the Big Three Detroit automakers.  Japan’s top two manufacturers, on the other hand, saw the price paid by the typical buyer surge to record levels.

Industry analysts will be watching closely in the weeks to come to see if the market can maintain the momentum it had shown during the first half of the year.

The weakest numbers came from General Motors and Ford, both of which reported sales dropped during July — though domestic rival Chrysler posted a 13 percent sales increase compared with the same month a year ago.

GM reported its sales dropped 6 percent as it cut back on sales to rental fleets. Ford posted a 4 percent decline, largely due to reduced sales to fleet customers. Both automakers have signaled their decision to reduce those low-profit sales practices but the impact has been significant. 

With some automakers still waiting to report, market share numbers for July aren’t yet available. But for the first six months of 2012, GM’s share slid to 18.1 percent compared to 19.9 percent during the same period a year earlier. Ford’s share, meanwhile, dropped from 16.9 percent to 15.7 percent.

Among the first of the Japanese automakers to report for July, Nissan posted a 16.3 percent increase in sales for July, while Volkswagen posted a 27 percent sales increase.

A significant factor in the market has been a steady decline in incentives. At the same time, Average Transaction Prices — ATP, or the price the typical customer pays — has been rising. Toyota and Honda both set records last month, reported TrueCar.com, an authority on car pricing, trends and forecasts.

TrueCar estimated the average transaction price for light vehicles in the United States was $30,369 in July 2012, up $487 (1.6 percent) from July 2011 and down $139 (0.5 percent) from June 2012.

Honda, however, saw its ATP jump 2 percent year-over-year, and 0.2 percent from June 2012, to a record $27,123. Toyota’s was up 3 percent for the year and 0.6 percent from June, to a record $28,074.


"Even though automakers may give the impression that they are ramping up incentives spending, the very low cost of funds and historically high resale values are in fact enabling them to create a ton of noise with fewer actual dollars spent," said Jesse Toprak, vice president of market intelligence for TrueCar.com. “Manufacturers are increasingly moving away from cash incentives and pushing finance and lease programs,” he added.

GM said one bright note in its sales picture was the strong showing by Cadillac, which reported a 21 percent increase in sales for the month. The luxury marque is hoping to kick off a resurgence with two new products: the high-line XTS and the ATS, a BMW 3-Series competitor.

During July, Chrysler recorded its 28th consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains, and the Chrysler brand led the way with its 35 percent sales gain, the largest percentage increase of any Chrysler Group brand in July.

“July was another solid month for Chrysler Group as we again demonstrated our disciplined and methodical approach to growing sales and profits,” said Reid Bigland, president and CEO of the Dodge brand and head of U.S. sales.

The strong sales followed the announcement on Monday that Chrysler had its highest quarterly profits in more than a decade during the second quarter.

Chrysler Group’s 13 percent sales increase was driven in part by two models that set sales records for the month of July: the Chrysler 200 midsize sedan and the Dodge Journey full-size crossover. Sales of the award-winning Journey were up 69 percent, the largest percentage increase of any Chrysler Group model in July.

VW was the first of the Europeans to report in, the automaker eager to reveal its continuing positive results linked to its introduction of an “American-ized” Passat sedan that is being produced at a new factory in Tennessee.

“Volkswagen has proven demand and enthusiasm for our products with over 37,000 units sold for the month, continuing the pace of double-digit sales growth for 2012,” said Jonathan Browning, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. “We’re pleased to see consumers embracing our strong lineup of award-winning, fuel-efficient, high-quality vehicles and we expect our growth to continue.”

As for Nissan, the automaker appears to be gaining critical momentum from an assortment of new products such as the Infiniti JX and the all-new Altima sedan with which it is intent on displacing Toyota’s Camry as the best-selling midsize passenger car.

Paul A. Eisenstein contributed to this report.

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