NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. posted improved U.S. sales in July while Chrysler Group sales were flat, as strong incentives prompted buyers to ignore concerns about stock market declines to keep buying new cars and trucks.
Overall U.S. vehicle sales in July rose 8.2 percent to 1.52 million from 1.35 million a year earlier, according to sales tracker Autodata. That put the industry on a blistering annual sales rate of 18.1 million vehicles, compared to a 16.5 million vehicle rate a year earlier.
General Motors, which led the industry into the new round of zero-interest financing in the month, saw its daily sales rate shoot up 24 percent from year-ago levels. The rate for light trucks, which include pickups, sport/utility vehicles and vans, soared 36 percent, while the rate of car sales gained 10.6 percent.
An extra selling day in July compared with a year earlier means overall U.S. sales gained even more, up 29 percent at the world's largest automaker. Overall year-to-date U.S. light vehicle sales at GM rose 1.8 percent, as a 12.5 percent gain in light truck sales overcame a 9.1 decline in car model sales. For the year to date, GM's U.S. market share is up to 28.5 percent, according to Autodata, from 27.7 percent of the market in the same period last year.
Consumers embraced the zero-interest financing incentive the way they did last fall, when GM introduced it in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack, leading to a record sales month for the industry last October.
Executives of GM and Ford told analysts they don't believe July's stock market declines had any appreciable impact on auto sales, and even recent surveys showing sharply lower consumer confidence did not overly concern them about future sales.
"We've put out our production plan for the third quarter that is something we feel like we can live with for the next three-month period," George Pipas, Ford's head of sales reporting and analysis, said.
Ford posts first gain of year
Ford, the world's No. 2 automaker, posted its first sales improvement on a year-to-year basis so far this year. It's daily sales rate rose 1.5 percent, and an extra selling day in the month gave it a 4.3 percent overall gain in U.S. vehicle sales.
Ford's car sales rose to 122,701 from 117,696 a year earlier, relatively flat on a daily sales rate basis, while the light trucks daily sales rate climbed 2.3 percent and overall sales climbed 6.4 percent to 197,274 from 185,347.
Ford had a 4 percent gain in daily sales to individual customers, while fleet sales to businesses fell 9 percent from a year earlier. Fleet sales have been significantly lower throughout the year, hurt by a slowdown in business spending and a lack of demand from car rental companies, such as Ford's Hertz subsidiary, due to a drop in travel from the period before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Ford's year-to-date U.S. vehicle sales still are off 9.1 percent to 2.1 million from 2.3 million in the first seven months of 2001. Year-to-date light truck sales are off 7 percent and car sales are off 12.3 percent.
Chrysler's sales rate declines
Chrysler, the North American unit of DaimlerChrysler AG, sold almost the same number of vehicles in the United States in July as it did a year ago, 185,602 compared with 185,598. But the extra selling day lowered the daily sales rate by 4 percent.
Cars had a strong gain, as the sales rate climbed 17 percent and total sales rose to 42,008 from 34,354, with virtually all Chrysler's car models posting better than 10 percent gains. The company said its fleet sales began to stabilize and it sees continued gains in car sales for the remainder of the year.
But Chrysler's sales rate for SUVs fell 12 percent and the overall light truck sales rate declined 9 percent.
Luxury automaker Mercedes Benz, another unit of DaimlerChrysler not included in the Chrysler sales figures, saw its sales fall 7.5 percent to 14,937, led by lower sales of its E-class and S-class cars.
Overseas manufacturers also posted improved sales, with U.S. sales records set by a number of Asian automakers, including Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors of Japan as well as Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia. European automakers Volkswagen and BMW also posted gains.
Click here for a look at auto stocks
Overall Autodata reports that Asian auto brands, including vehicles made for them at North American plants, posted a 6.8 percent gain in sales, while European brands, including those owned by U.S. automakers, edged up 0.7 percent.
Despite the strong sales report, shares of GM (GM: down $0.71 to $45.84, Research, Estimates), Ford (F: down $0.42 to $13.05, Research, Estimates) and the American depositary shares of DaimlerChrysler (DCX: down $1.18 to $41.58, Research, Estimates) all lost ground in trading Thursday.