By TOM KRISHER and DEE-ANN DURBIN
DETROIT (AP) â¿¿ Pickup trucks led the charge in July, but strong sales of small cars show that demand for new vehicles is broad â¿¿ and not slowing down.
Car sales grew in the first six months of this year, but not at the blistering pace of trucks and SUVs. Through June, full-size pickups were up 22.5 percent over the year before, while cars were up 5 percent.
But in July, sales of smaller cars took off. General Motors said its car sales jumped 24 percent, including a 42 percent increase in subcompact and small car sales. Honda Civic sales were up 30 percent to 32,416, their best July in 13 years.Sales of the recently redesigned Ford Fiesta subcompact were up 89 percent. Another subcompact, the Nissan Versa, was up 21 percent. Part of the frenzy was seasonal. Small cars traditionally sell better in the summer and then taper off as winter approaches. But it's also an indication of the high level of demand from all kinds of customers, which is likely to remain for the rest of this year. "We think there's more room to grow this year," said Kurt McNeil, GM's U.S. sales chief, citing improving home values and rising consumer confidence. GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda and Nissan all reported double-digit sales gains last month. Of major automakers, only Volkswagen had a down month. Its sales were off 3.3 percent as the top-selling Jetta compact faltered. Honda led the way with a 21 percent sales increase. Toyota and GM both saw sales rise around 16 percent. Chrysler, Nissan and Ford all reported 11 percent gains. Most industry analysts estimate that July sales rose around 15 percent from a year ago â¿¿ the final tally comes out later in the day. A performance that strong will signal that the industry's momentum can carry through December.