Americans' enthusiasm for new cars and trucks cooled in June on worries about the economy, signaling that the auto industry's recovery is far from certain.
GM, Ford and Chrysler said sales of new cars and trucks fell between 12 and 13 percent in June from the prior month. Sales at Toyota Motor Corp. slid 14 percent. Hyundai, however, bucked the trend with a slight gain.
People are holding off on big-ticket purchases because they remain anxious about unemployment and home values. Tightfisted consumers could mean a tough summer for automakers, who hope to improve sales after a dismal 2009.
"The market remains very challenging and the recovery continues to be at a very gradual and modest pace," said Bob Carter, a Toyota vice president.
Industrywide auto sales rose 14 percent from June of 2009, when the industry was in the depths of its downturn and General Motors and Chrysler were in Chapter 11. But the May-to-June performance offered a glimpse of the recovery's progress. Sales fell more than 10 percent during that time.
The recovery in auto sales this year has been fitful. Sales rose in May from April, but fell the month before. Over the last six months, month-to-month sales fell as many times as they rose.
Paul Ballew, a former GM chief economist who now works for Nationwide Insurance, said the most recent sales decline shows that consumers are wary of mixed economic news.
"We have a recovery that certainly is struggling to gain momentum," he said. He has cut his U.S. sales forecast for the year by about 500,000 vehicles. He had predicted sales in the mid-to-high 11 million range.
June sales often fall from May, which benefits from big sales over Memorial Day weekend. But this June's decline is much larger than the usual 5 percent, said Jesse Toprak of auto pricing site TrueCar.com.
Hyundai Motor Co. was the sole automaker to post higher month-over-month sales, rising 4 percent. The South Korean automaker has grabbed a bigger chunk of the U.S. market recently thanks to several new models that have scored big with buyers. They include the Genesis luxury sedan and popular Sonata sedan.
Sales at General Motors Co. slid 12 percent from May to 195,000 vehicles. But compared with last year, its four core brands — Cadillac, GMAC, Chevrolet and Buick — saw sales rise 36 percent. Ford Motor Co. sales fell 11 percent from May to 171,000, with its popular F-Series pickup down 7 percent. But sales rose 15 percent from June 2009.
Automakers are still predicting a gradual recovery in the last half of the year. Most expect full-year sales of between 11.5 million and 12 million, an improvement from the historic low of 10.4 million last year, but still well below the record high of more than 17 million in 2000.
The outlook remains cloudy, and most economic indicators offer a bleak view. Unemployment remains around 10 percent, and millions of people could be cut off from jobless benefits because Congress has not extended federal jobless aid that was passed during the recession.
The auto industry's struggles could offer one bit of good news for consumers. The weaker results could tempt automakers to extend more sales promotions, like low-cost leases, zero-percent financing and cash rebates, analysts said. But buyers may have to wait for sweeter deals. In June, automakers averaged $2,661 in incentive spending per vehicle last month, down $36 from May, according to the automotive website Edmunds.com.
Other automakers reporting Thursday:
- Hyundai reported a 4 percent increase from May and a 35 percent jump from June of last year.
- Toyota sales fell nearly 14 percent from May but said they rose 7 percent over June of last year.
- Nissan Motor Co. sales dropped 23 percent from May but were up 11 percent from June of last year.
- Honda sales slipped 9 percent from May but rose 6 percent over June of last year.
- Subaru's U.S. sales fell about 9 percent from May.
- Chrysler Group LLC sales fell 12 percent from May.