SUVs power GM; Ford, Chrysler sales jumps – USA TODAY
Expensive, gas-slurping, big SUVs are back, July auto sales figures show, as more Americans begin to feel financially secure.
That’s a huge boost to automakers’ bottom lines. Big SUVs are Detroit’s most profitable vehicles, and they sold for elevated prices in July — an average $5,500 more than a year earlier, said a report from Brian Johnson, auto analyst at Barclays. Also, incentives on the big SUVs were down an average of $782 from a year ago, he calculated.
But the growth of the big rigs isn’t at the expense of the smaller crossover SUVs, which automakers still see as a huge growth opportunity.
“The growth in large utilities is being driven by higher net-worth households that have benefited from the robust gains in the financial and real estate markets,” says Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. “Steady fuel prices have also helped to make these segments attractive once again.”
Automakers sold nearly 1.44 million new cars and trucks in the U.S. in July, according to Autodata, up 9.1% from a year earlier and up 1% from June. That amounted to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 16.48 million, up from 15.76 million a year ago.
General Motors is the strongest example of the SUV boom.
Sales of its new-design Cadillac Escalade, which starts at just under $70,000, more than doubled last month.
It’s based on the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon near-twins. Those models, together, were up 25.2% to 24,089.
All those are new designs, but being new wasn’t the key. GM’s aging Chevrolet Equinox two-row, mid-size crossover SUV was up 36.8%. At the other end, sales of Buick’s Encore mini-SUV rose 27.9%.
“Sales of utility vehicles soared in July because American families feel better about the economy than they have in a long time,” said Kurt McNeil, GM vice president of sales in the U.S.
Overall, GM sales in July were 256,160, up up 9.4%, the automaker’s best July since 2007.
At Ford Motor, Explorer SUV sales jumped 34.9% and the smaller Escape SUV rose 18.9% for its best-ever July sales.
Ryan Brinkman, auto industry analyst at JP Morgan, noted that Ford’s total SUV sales rose 12.6% in July and that one of the champions was the Explorer Police Interceptor model, popular with police because Ford has made it suitable for high-speed pursuit.
Ford sold 2,209 of those police models in July, up 64%.
The big Ford Expedition SUV, which starts at about $43,000 and is rated 16 mpg in combined city/highway driving, was up 59.3%.
Ford’s struggling Lincoln brand reported a sales jump of 13.6% — entirely due to the addition of the MKC small SUV to the lineup. Its 1,534 sales wiped out losses by all the Lincoln cars and most SUVs. The only other SUV to gain: the hefty Navigator. It starts at about $57,000, is rated 16 mpg in city/highway driving. Its sales were up 0.2%.
All told, Ford’s July number was 211,467, up 9.5%, according to Autodata.
Chrysler Group’s Jeep brand SUV sales rocketed 40.9% from a year ago.
Proving that old and crude are not disincentives, the maker’s Jeep Wrangler, the basic iconic Jeep, was up 13.8%.
All Jeep model sales rose in July, and the brand’s still-new Cherokee, a compact crossover SUV introduced last October as replacement for the Liberty, added significant new sales to the count.
Chrysler Group’s July total for all its brands was 167,667, up 19.7% — best July sales since 2005.
“With consumer confidence at its peak since the great recession, car buyers are prioritizing” larger SUVs’ handiness, roominess and perceived safety “above the incremental pricing and ongoing fuel costs” of the bigger SUVs, said Eric Lyman, vice president of industry insights at ALG, a unit of TrueCar.
The SUV boom was marbled through import brands, too.
•Toyota’s strong SUV sales helped it hit 215,802 in July, outselling Ford to be the No. 2 automaker in the U.S., which it hadn’t done since August 2013.
Sales of the RAV4 compact SUV were 37.1% better than a year earlier. The 4Runner a mid-size, old-school, truck-style SUV, boomed 64.5%. Highlander crossover was up 4.1%.
Sequoia full-size truck-based SUV apparently lost buyers to the big Detroit models and was off 9.4%.
But the Lexus GX luxury SUV was up 121.9%.
•Nissan’s Murano mid-size crossover SUV was up 22.5%
Its big Armada truck-style SUV, already selling in small numbers, couldn’t compete with the newer models from Detroit and sales slipped 14.3%. That was offset, though, by a 22.1% sales gain for the Infiniti QX80, the luxury version of Armada.
Overall, Nissan and Infiniti together sold 121,452 new cars and trucks in July, up 11.4% from a year earlier.