Aug. 1, 2012 at 9:32 AM ET
Updated at 11:15 a.m. ET:General Motors and Ford said Wednesday their sales numbers skidded in July, but smaller U.S. rival Chrysler said its sales increased by 13 percent during the month.
GM said its U.S. sales fell more than 6 percent last month as a money-back guarantee offer failed to attract many buyers.
The company blamed much of the drop from a year ago on reduced sales to rental car companies. But retail sales to individual buyers fell 3 percent.
"It's the economy. There is no way around it," said George Magliano, senior economist with IHS Automotive.
"In this kind of environment, it's very difficult for light vehicle sales to get any traction," Magliano added, noting that lack of job growth and confusion about government policy on tax cuts and spending tempered sales in July.
GM and Magliano forecast the annual auto sales pace would be between 13.8 million and 14 million in July. Analysts' average forecast was 14 million.
Kurt McNeil, U.S. vice president of sales at General Motors, told CNBC the automaker sees headwinds ahead for the industry, including “tough” jobs data. But, he added, housing “has given us some positive signs” and fuel prices are “in a pretty good place.”
GM's sales continued to lag growth in the overall market.
Ford’s sales fell 4 percent in July as it lost ground it gained last year when its Japanese rivals had low inventories.
Ford's best-seller, the F-Series pickup, was flat compared with last July. Sales of the Escape small SUV fell 12 percent after the latest version was recalled for safety issues.
Ford's best performer in July was the Fusion sedan, which saw sales climb 21 percent. The Ford Explorer SUV was up 15 percent.
But those increases couldn't make up for big declines elsewhere. The Fiesta subcompact was down 23 percent and sales of Ford's Lincoln luxury brand fell 11 percent.
Ford said it was hurt because it decreased sales to government and rental fleets in July. Fleet sales were down 16 percent.
Chrysler bucked the trend and said its sales rose 13 percent in July, while Nissan Motor Co posted a 16.2 percent increase, as better financing deals and pent-up demand lured consumers into dealer showrooms last month.
Chrysler, which is majority-owned by Italian automaker Fiat SpA, sold 126,089 cars and trucks last month, its best July in five years.
The smallest U.S. automaker's sales increase fell short of some analysts' estimates. Barclays Capital had expected Chrysler to sell 129,453 vehicles, while RBC Capital Markets had projected 127,889.
U.S. auto sales for Japan's Nissan rose 16.2 percent to 98,341.
Toyota said its monthly sales were up 36.6 percent in July on a daily selling rate basis and 26.1 percent on an unadjusted raw volume basis.
Monthly auto sales are an early indicator of U.S. consumer demand. According to a Reuters survey of 41 economists, the annual auto sales pace is expected to be 14 million in July, roughly on par with the 14.1 million rate seen in June.
Last month, better financing deals attracted consumers who had been closed out of the auto market since the recession. That, coupled with pent-up demand and increased construction spending, may offset weak consumer confidence and still-high unemployment, analysts have said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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