July Sales Up, But Inventory Hinders Recovery

By Dale Buss August 2, 2011

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The July U.S. auto market remained in a suspended animation of sorts as carmakers and consumers appeared to be waiting out some crucial factors, though Tuesday's short-term resolution of the U.S. debt-ceiling crisis removed at least one source of economic anxiety. Industry-wide sales came in at 1,059,097 units, a gain of about 0.9 percent over a year earlier. The seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of sales registered at 12.2 million units, about the same as a year ago and a nice gain from the June rate of 11.4 million units and 11.8 million units in May. Overall, there was a sense of disappointment that the market hadn’t been able to advance by July compared with the first quarter.

There have been lots of drags on the market, beginning with the supply problems of Japanese brands post-earthquake, continuing with high gasoline prices, and extending to renewed concerns about the U.S. economy. “The results were higher than some forecasts out there for July,” said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds.com’s senior U.S. sales analyst. “But there’s a lot to be negative about. It could be seen as a lost market opportunity; we expected to be at a much better place at this point.”

Don Johnson, U.S. vice president of sales for General Motors, agreed that “the industry ran into severe headwinds. Yet, he said, GM confirmed its outlook for full-year 2011 sales to be between 13 million and 13.5 million units, if on the low end of that range. Similarly, Edmunds.com chief economist Lacey Plache has stuck with the company’s projection of 12.9 million sales for all of 2011. They and others cite positive factors such as the full-volume return of Japanese brands to the U.S. marketplace, stabilizing gasoline prices, some signs of improving consumer confidence even amid gloomy reports about joblessness and manufacturing activity – and, of course, the end at least for now of the budget wrangling in Washington.

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Needed: More Cars
In the meantime, car buyers have continued to demonstrate a strong preference for fuel-efficient vehicles over lower-mileage ones. And that has caused a problem because small Japanese-brand cars still are in short supply as well as some American-brand models, such as Ford Focus (above) and Fiesta. Toyota reported higher sales but actually lower inventories at the end of the month as dealers gained the confidence in the knowledge of future supplies to make more sales now.

“Small-car sales continued to be constrained in July by limited inventory,” said George Pipas, Ford’s head of U.S. sales analysis. At the beginning of July, he said, the average days’ supply of subcompact cars across the market was 34 days, and of compact cars 30 days, compared with an overall industry average across segments of a 54-day supply. “Cars captured a smaller share of the overall market in July than in June,” he said, “while utilities gained strength industry-wide.” Meanwhile, pickup truck sales were about flat across the board, as strengthening sales to some types of commercial customers continued to be offset by endemic weakness in the housing industry, one of the main customers for pickups.

“August will be a pivotal month,” Caldwell said. “It may not turn out as strong as I had thought even a few days ago, because of doubts about the economic recovery, and because the inventory situation isn’t going to be even as good as had been expected. But August will give us a good indicator of what the rest of the year will look like. Most important, we’ll be able to see how the underlying economic story affects things. And it will tell us whether we’re going to see the release of that pent-up demand that a lot of automakers are waiting for.”

GM: Cruze News Again

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General Motors sold 214,915 vehicles in July, up 7.7 percent from July 2010 but about flat from June. That still puts GM ahead for the year by nearly 16 percent. GM claims its retail sales were up 6 percent from last July and 1 percent from June. Again this month, the Chevrolet Cruze was the big story at GM. The compact car, which was the nation’s best-seller last month and came in second in July, had its fourth-straight month of 20,000 plus sales – 24,648 to be exact. The 42 mpg Cruze Eco accounted for 19 percent of Cruze retail sales. The Equinox also had a good month with sales up 73 percent to 17,094 units. Similarly, the Traverse was up 43 percent. Chevrolet sold only 125 Volts as the Detroit plant that makes them was down to prepare for the addition of the 2012 Malibu and the Volt-based Opel/Vauxhall Ampera for export.

The all-new Buick Regal continued to appeal to new consumers, more than doubling retail sales from a year ago. For the month, approximately 33 percent of Regal sales were turbo models. Chevrolet Camaro retail sales rose 7 percent, as demand for the all-new convertible model continued to rise. GMC was another bright spot for GM with sales up 36.4 percent, thanks to gains made by the Eqiunox-based Terrain and the Acadia, which shares it underpinning with the Chevy Traverse. Buick sales were up 4.3 percent with the Regal posting a hefty 106-percent gain in sales. Of those, 33 percent were turbo versions. Enclave sales also were up but Lacrosse sales and the soon to be dropped Lucerne posting declines.

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Cadillac sales plunged 25.5 percent from a year ago with the previously hot SRX taking a 25-percent hit on top of every other Cadillac model posting a double-digit drop. GM executives blamed the decline from last July to an extremely strong month a year ago, making a positive comparison difficult as well as a planned drop in fleet sales. In addition, Cadillac executives said the luxury segment in total likely will show a decline for July from June, from the roughly 11.2 percent of the total market to 1 to 1.5 percentage points lower.

Sales of GM’s full-size pickups – Chevrolet Silverado and Avalanche, and GMC Sierra, increased 2 percent from June but were still in negative territory compared with a year ago. GM pointed out that retail sales rose 5 percent compared to last month. “The increase in industry sales of full-size pickups is consistent with our forecast, as more truck buyers come back into the market,” said GM’s chief sales analyst Don Johnson. “We expect continued modest growth in the segment for the remainder of the year.

Ford: Steady As It Goes

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Ford reported sales of 189,315 for July, up 6 percent over year-earlier sales of 179,208, and a continuation of the company’s sales momentum powered by some of its newest vehicles as well as at least a momentary revival of its Lincoln brand. “We’re very encouraged because the increase appears to be driven by retail sales,” Pipas said. Czubay declared that the July results tended to validate that Ford is making good calls all over the place. “It’s our total value proposition: fuel economy and dependability, and we’re right on everything from small cars to new powertrains.”

Edmunds.com’s Caldwell acknowledged Ford’s continuing achievements but noted that “it’s a lot of product news, with freshened and new models, that has made a lot of headway for Ford. The pressure is on them now to continue their momentum as [Japanese] competitors [re-]enter the marketplace.” In fact, Ford believes that its own July sales could have been stronger were it not for persistent supply difficulties with its small-car models. Fiesta sales were up by 58 percent compared with July 2010, early in its launch, yet a 20-day supply of inventory so long after the car’s introduction is a strong indicator of its strong appeal, Pipas said. Los Angeles continued to be the top Ford sales region for Fiesta, a pleased Czubay said. “California is an emerging market for Ford when it comes to small cars,” he said. “They’re going right off the lots there.”

The supply situation of the Ford Focus was even more severe. Focus sales in July were actually 3 percent below a year earlier even though the new 2012 Focus was launched several months ago, in large part because of Americans’ overall strong demand for small, fuel-efficient cars that can’t be fully satisfied by supply-constrained Japanese brands just yet. “Basically, at our dealers right now we have about 25 percent of Focus inventories we had a year ago,” Pipas explained. “With sales being down only 3 percent with inventories that much lower, it really attests to how fast the car is turning. There’s no question it’s being pinched right now by tight inventories.”

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Caldwell agreed that Ford “looks like they have the propensity to sell more” small cars. “That could have been a holdback for them, but the good news is that the pricing for those models is still very strong. Profitability is shifting from trucks and SUVs.” In fact, Pipas said that while the average transaction price in the industry rose by about $500 a car in July, Ford’s rose on average by about $1,000 in the month.

Fusion set a monthly sales record in July just as it has for each of the last 11 months and sold 151,004 units for the first seven months of the year, up 17 percent versus a year ago. Mustang and Taurus sales were down by 9 and 10 percent, respectively. Most of Ford’s utility vehicles advanced, with the segment improving by 31 percent in the month. Escape hit a monthly sales record of 24,211 in July. “It’s an older product,” Caldwell noted, “but people are looking for good value, and it provides decent value.” Sales of the new 2012 Explorer more than doubled compared with sales of the old version a year earlier, and Edge sales rose by 4 percent. Flex sales continued to tank, however, down 24 percent in July compared with a year ago.

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Sales of Ford’s industry-leading F Series pickup trucks declined by 3 percent compared with a year ago. But “commercial demand was very strong,” Czubay said. “Large and small businesses continue to replace their aging fleets” of pickup trucks. And for the third month in a row, V-6 engines outsold eight-cylinder powertrains in the F-150, 56 percent to 44 percent in July, as truck customers continued their bent toward better fuel economy. Caldwell doubted that the just-announced recall of 1.1 million F Series trucks would have much of an effect on sales or market share.

Lincoln showed more sales spark than it had all year, with a 40-percent sales increase over a year ago, paced by the brand’s newest products, the MKZ sedan and the MKX crossover. That encouraged Czubay, who noted that the brand also will be introducing seven new or substantially overhauled products over the next couple of years. “We’ve dedicated our production and marketing organizations to making Lincoln a world-class luxury brand,” he said.

Toyota: Tough Slogging

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Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. posted a 23-percent decline in U.S. sales compared with a year ago, to 130,802 units, as the company continued to deal with the fallout from its supply-chain collapse after the disaster in Japan in March. The dynamics have improved for Toyota as the company gets closer to a return to full production of its models in the United States, and July sales were 18 percent higher than in June. But Toyota’s dealers appear to be whisking new vehicles out the door as quickly as new supply trickles in. Toyota’s U.S. inventories were only 150,000 units at the beginning of August, an actual decline from 180,000 units in inventory at the beginning of July.

Also this week, Toyota executives indicated that they don’t expect the company to return to its “old” market share in the U.S. market until March. “That’s a bit late,” Caldwell said. “That indicates some production issues aren’t quite settled.” Meanwhile, in turn, the constrained selection and inventories tend to discourage some sales. “There were market opportunities to sell Corolla, Yaris, and Lexis vehicles overall” that the company couldn’t convert because of continued difficulties with its supply chain.

Toyota executives explained the situation. “Availability continues to improve faster than expected,” said Jeff Bracken, vice president of Toyota Division sales, noting that Toyota’s share of the U.S. market actually increased in July – by nearly 2 percent, the first time since March that it marked a boost. Retail sales in July, he said, were “especially strong” – up 23 percent from June. And because Toyota has been focused on regaining retail footing, fleet sales during the month were just 2 percent, far below even the company’s usual single-digit-percentage target for fleets.

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Still, the inventory situation presents a continuing challenge for them. “Inventories are not rebuilding as rapidly as we thought they would, said one executive, Randy Pflughaupt. Available supplies “are being converted by dealers into sales, so inventories are improving at a little slower pace” than Toyota had expected as it worked to emerge from its supply crisis. “We expect availability to improve each and every month through the end of the calendar year … and we’ll be in much, much better shape as we move into the balance of the year.” But, he said, “it will probably be beyond the end of this calendar year before inventories return” to 2010 levels. So while Toyota expects to be back to full production on a global basis soon, a somewhat quickening sales pace will keep inventories depleted to some extent for months to come.

In the meantime, Toyota executives said they are dedicated to keeping the Toyota Camry the best-selling car in America. July sales were 27,016, down by 20 percent on supply constraints. Plus, a new 2012 Camry will be unveiled later this month. “We haven’t started building the new model yet, so we’ve got lower-than-expected inventories,” Bracken said. “But still we’ve got great selection. We’re in very good position as we sell down out of ‘11s and begin production of ‘12s in September.” He added that Toyota would “stay in a competitive position in terms of incentive spend and marketing communications” on Camry. “That No. 1-selling-car claim is very important to us, and we’ll do all we can to retain that claim.”

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Meanwhile, Prius, one of the most supply-constrained Toyota models, sold more than 7,900 units in July. That was about 42 percent fewer than a year earlier. But Toyota knows that tens of thousands of new Prius units are to be delivered to the United States yet this summer and so executives chose to accentuate the positive. Increasing availability and sales of Prius from second-quarter levels are “perhaps the most encouraging sign that things are continuing to move forward for us,” Bracken said. Sales of Sienna minivan rose by 6 percent in July. RAV4 and Highlander nameplates posted improved sales, as did the Venza mid-sized crossover. Sales of Tundra and Tacoma pickups combined registered an 8-percent decline, hardly surprising, Caldwell said, considering the tough sales environment for trucks these days. The Scion brand, awaiting the introduction of a new iQ “mini” model later this year, posted a 22-percent decline in overall sales.

Lexus is having a hard time getting up off the mat after winning the 2010 U.S. luxury-segment crown, now having to watch BMW and Mercedes-Benz slug it out for the 2011 crown. Brand sales were off by 20 percent even though showroom traffic was higher than a year ago. “We hit the bottom of the trough of availability in June,” said Brian Smith, a Lexus sales executive. “We’re on our way back. July sales exceeded our plan, and with increased availability, we’re gearing up for a typically strong fourth quarter for Lexus.”

Chrysler: Driven By Jeep

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Chrysler posted a 20-percent sales increase, leading all major automakers on a percentage-gain basis, selling 112,026 units in July compared with 93,313 vehicles a year earlier. The company continued its resurgence led by a big gain in Jeep brand sales, but performance improvements were sprinkled elsewhere in its vehicle lineup too. “In a market that remains tougher than a cheap steak, we were able to produce our highest retail sales in more than three years,” noted Reid Bigland, president and CEO of the Dodge brand and head of U.S. sales. “I think that statistic is the ultimate testament to the progress we have made with our product in the areas of fuel economy, quality and design.”

Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brands each registered year-over-year sales gains in July, while the Fiat brand – returning to America this year with a single model, the 500 city car – registered a 68-percent increase compared with June. Car sales increased 28 percent in July, while truck sales overall were up 18 percent. Jeep was the best performer, with a 46-percent sales increase in July, the brand’s best sales volume since March 2008 and its 15th consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains. All five Jeep models posted a sales increase compared with the same month a year ago, led by Wrangler and its record sales volume of 14,355 units in July. Sales of the new Grand Cherokee were up 76 percent compared with the old version it replaced last fall.

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The Dodge brand was an overall disappointment. Stocked with muscle cars that aren’t appealing to many consumers in the middle of gas-price inflation, Dodge struggled to a 9-percent overall improvement. But that was only because sales of its Caliber small car rose by 14 percent compared with a year ago, while sales of the new Durango SUV – a nameplate that basically disappeared from the market for about two years – surged to nearly 5,400 units in July. The Chrysler brand struggled, as sales of the new 200 were more than double the Sebring compact that it replaced, and sales of the significantly improved 2011 300 rose by 6 percent just weeks ahead of the introduction of a new 2012 version. But sales of the Town & Country minivan were down 20 percent in July. Meanwhile, sales of the Ram pickup-truck line were flat, as the July sales environment for its segment worsened.

Nissan: Inventories Building, Infiniti Struggles

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Nissan North America sold 84,601 vehicles wearing Nissan and Infiniti nameplates, an increase of 2.7 percent from July of last year and up 17.6 percent from June. Nissan Division sales accounted for the bulk at 77,191 units for a 6.4 percent increase from a year ago. Infiniti, particularly hard-hit by the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake as most of its vehicles are Japan made, fell 24.1 percent to 7,410 vehicles. The recovery from the tight inventories caused by the earthquake was obvious with improved sales in models that had been particularly hit by depleted supplies. Among them, the Rogue set a new July record of 11,260 units, a 2.7 percent rise from a year ago, and the Juke with 3,221 units. Nissan Leaf sales climbed to 931 units in July.

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The U.S.-built Nissan Frontier had another strong month with sales up 21.8 percent from a year ago to 4,832 sold. Nissan’s best selling Altima were up 16.8 percent, much of the rest of Nissan’s car line, including the Versa, Sentra and Cube, saw double-digit sales drops. The all-new NV commercial vehicle pitched in 678 units, a 53.6 percent hike from June; the Quest minivan had 1,426 sales. Aside from Frontier and Pathfinder, the rest of Nissan’s truck models had sales declines.

The Infiniti side of the Nissan house remained tough, though improved from June. Sales of every Infiniti model were off by double digits compared with a year ago. But sales of every Infiniti model increased from June, indicating inventories are being replenished. The automaker received more than 10,000 Infiniti vehicles in July for sale during the month. Infiniti sales in total were up 18 percent from June, although down 25.9 percent from a year ago. For the calendar year, Infiniti sales are off 4.2 percent to 54,678 vehicles.

Honda: Still Struggling With Inventory

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Honda’s sales report was – well, ugly. In total, American Honda sold 80,502 Honda and Acura branded vehicles in July, a 28-percent plunge from a year ago. Honda was not only outsold by Chrysler this month but also Japanese rival Nissan, a rare event that has not occurred since March 1997. There was but one model on the entire sales report that showed a plus sign, that was the Pilot with sales up only 8 percent. Every other model in Honda’s inventory-savaged line-up was off by hefty double digits: the volume leading Accord, down 25 percent; the Civic, being produced in its newest version at reduced levels, down 37 percent; the fuel-sipping Fit, down 22 percent; the ridgeline down a whopping 75 percent; the Insight hybrid, down 45 percent; the Odyssey, off 32 percent.

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The picture on the Acura side of the ledger was no prettier. Its sales totaled 9,402, down about 25 percent from a year ago. Every model in the Acura line was off double digits, including its top-selling MDX, which had sales down nearly 15 percent to 3,438 units. "We look forward to improved inventory levels in the coming months as most of our North American facilities begin to return to full production in August," said John Mendel, American Honda executive vice president of sales.

Hyundai: Another Monthly Record

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Hyundai Motor America set a July record of 59,561 vehicles sold for a 10-percent increase compared with a year ago. July’s sales record pushed the first seven months of the year to a new record as well and marks the seventh consecutive month that Hyundai posted sales record. "Consumer demand continues to be robust across the board for Hyundai, particularly with our imposing sedan line-up of Accent, Elantra, and Sonata Hybrid all delivering on our 40 MPG promise," said Dave Zuchowski, Hyundai Motor America's executive vice president of national sales. The redesigned Accent is following the same track as the redesigned Sonata and Elantra when they were launched. “Accent sales are up an astounding 75 percent in the first full month of deliveries and our new subcompact is expected to become the top selling nameplate at retail in its segment for July.”

Sonata sales hit 20,884 units, up 17 percent from a year ago. Elantra sales totaled 15,181 were actually down, likely due to inventory shortages. Genesis had its 25th consecutive month of year-over-year sales increases with a lift of 53 percent over last July. Equus is up 37 percent versus June and set an all-time sales record. The U.S.-built Sonata and Santa Fe also saw increases of 17 and 15 percent, respectively. “The team at Hyundai is proud to show how receptive American car buyers are to fuel-efficient vehicles right now, with 38 percent of our sales hitting 40 MPG this month," said John Krafcik, Hyundai Motor America's president and CEO.

Kia: Best-Ever July

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Kia recorded its best-ever July sales of 45,504 vehicles, a 29-percent hike from a year ago. Kia sales were led by the Sorento CUV, which posted its best monthly sales of 13,262 units, up 47 percent from a year ago. The Soul had another big month with sales over 10,000 units. Other strong performers were the Forte, Optima and Sportage. Rio sales were down as Kia cleans out old inventory to make way for the new version of the subcompact. "With the long-term success of our two best-selling products – Sorento and Soul – the overwhelmingly positive response the new Optima has received and the arrival of the all-new Rio models later this year, Kia is well-positioned for continued sales and market share growth in the second half of 2011 and beyond," said Byung Mo Ahn, group president and CEO of KMA and Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia (KMMG).

Volkswagen: Momentum Continues

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Volkswagen of America posted a 22-percent increase in July sales, better than any of the U.S. market’s largest players at 29,066 units, and the brand’s best July since 2002. VW was led by a 51-percent increase in sales of its Jetta compact, which were up even more – by 64 percent – for the year to date. “For the seventh month in a row, we significantly outpaced the industry performance, showing strong baseline demand for our products,” said Jonathan Browning, president and CEO. “With the all-new Passat and Beetle due in dealer showrooms this fall, we are confident the momentum will continue. Right now, Jetta dominates the VW lineup, accounting for 54 percent of the brand’s sales in July and an astounding 59 percent for the year to date. This has been the case despite the fact that reviews haven’t been all that kindly, noted Edmunds.com’s Caldwell, and “with practically no incentives.” But Jetta did have some help: Sales of the Touareg and Tiguan SUVs rose by 119 percent and 20 percent in July, respectively. Sales of the tiny Eos rose by 40 percent, and sales of VW’s other high-volume small-car franchise, Rabbit/Golf, rose by 15 percent for the month and by 19 percent for the year to date.

VW’s gaze increasingly turns to the debut of the design-conscious new Beetle and the hopefully impactful Passat in the fall. A Volkswagen executive announced on Tuesday that the company already is prepared to expand production of Passat at the company’s new U.S. plant, in Chattanooga, Tenn., less than four months after building the first one; built to construct up to 150,000 vehicles a year, VW now could make adjustments to boost the volume to between 200,000 and 220,000 annually, if necessary. If the new Passat – the nameplate has essentially been out of the market for a year – reaches anywhere near the sales performance of the new Jetta, VW might actually have to consider that. But Caldwell sounded a cautionary note, saying that Passat will “hit in a hard segment with competitors who’ve been there for quite some time,” including Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion.

BMW: Luxury Gap Widened

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Sales for the BMW Group in the U.S. were up 11.7 percent compared with July, 2010, to 26,120 vehicles. The total included 4,711 sales for BMW’s Mini small-car unit, an improvement of 8.9 percent, while the BMW brand sold 21,409 vehicles for a 12.3-percent gain compared with last July. BMW’s big performance in July came from the redesigned X3 crossover, which posted a ponderous 294.8-percent gain to 2,207 units. The X5 and X6 crossovers also gained, leading to a healthy 55.9-percent overall improvement for the brand’s utility vehicles. On the car side, BMW’s 5-Series midsizer boosted sales 58.5 percent to 4,318 units. The low-volume Z4 roadster was up by 92.4 percent to 454 sales, but every other BMW car line was down, including a 52.3-percent slide for the 1-Series compact car to 664 sales. The brand’s best seller, the 3-Series, was off a slight 2.9 percent.

For Mini, the Cooper Clubman line (+ 2.2 percent) and the all-new Countryman, which chipped in 1,283 incremental sales, were the brand’s gainers in July. Sales for the standard Cooper hardtop line slid by 26.8 percent to 2,287 units and the Cooper convertible lineup was down by 12.9 percent. Year-to-date, Mini sales are up 36.6 percent, largely due to the addition of the Countryman to the Mini model range.

Subaru: More Inventory Woes

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Subaru of America Inc., still struggling with shortages of vehicles built in quake-ravaged Japan, experienced a sales decline of 9.39 percent to 23,983 vehicles in July. The U.S.-built Legacy experienced a double-digit sales increase of 13.59 percent, while the volume-leading Outback experienced a 7.28 drop in sales. Sales of the Forester and Impreza, both built in Japan, were down double digits, 17.13 percent and 18.54 percent, respectively. "Consumer demand for our products remains at a high level and we look forward to increasing our inventory levels in the coming months to match this high demand," said Thomas J. Doll, Subaru executive vice president and chief operating officer.

While Subaru's year-to-year sales were down for July compared to July 2010, the number of vehicles sold for the month increased 4,189 from 19,794 in June. Subaru spokesman Michael McHale told AutoObserver the increase resulted from improved efficiency in selling the vehicles, saying that Subaru's dealers had a goal of selling 60 percent of their inventory in July. In a statement, Bill Cyphers, senior vice president of sales for Subaru of America, "Our dealers are working hard to maximize their stock and even though supply is light, consumers should still check availability at their dealership for the model of their choice."

Mercedes-Benz: Sales Up 17%

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Mercedes-Benz sales in July totaled 21,065 vehicles, a 16.7-percent improvement from the year earlier. Volume performers, as always were the E- and C-Class models. E-Class sales totaled 5,114 units, down 6.4 percent; and C-Class sales amounted to 4,554 units, off 14.2 percent. The new M-Class came in third in volume with sales of 2,778, up 40.8 percent from last July, and the new SLK roadster saw sales rise to 1,115 units, from 60 a year ago. The new 2012 CLS-Class posted a giant gain. Also in positive territory were the S-, G- and GL-Class models. The rest of Mercedes’ models posted declines.
Sales of diesel models were up 134 percent to 913 vehicles from 390. Mercedes listed the sale of one B-Class fuel cell car in its results. Smart, taken over by Mercedes from the Penske Automotive Group in June, had sales of 327 vehicles. Sprinter van sales soared 154 percent to 1,732 vehicles.

Mazda: Sales Nudge Upward

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Mazda North American Operations reported U.S. July sales of 20,783 vehicles, up slightly at 0.2 percent from a year ago. The CX-7 crossover celebrated its best July since 2007 with 3,152 sales, up 18.9 percent versus last July. The best-selling Mazda3 reported its best monthly sales since April of this year with 9,288 vehicles sold, down 4.3 percent versus last July. July sales of the Mazda5 multi-activity vehicle were down 9.8 percent. Mazda Motor de Mexico reported July sales of 2,255 vehicles, accounting for a 3.0 percent increase versus last July.

Audi: Record July

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Audi extended its rise in the hotly contested U.S. luxury segment, with July sales rising by 17 percent above a year earlier to 9,146 units. July marked the seventh consecutive month of record-setting year-over-year sales performances for the brand. The mix of the most premium Audi models – including the new A6, the all-new A7 and the A8 – jumped to 32 percent versus 18 percent in the same period last year, fitting Audi’s goal of making its biggest gains at the top end of the luxury segment this year. Sales of the Q7 SUV increased by 31 percent over a year earlier, with the clean-diesel TDI version accounting for 36 percent of Q7 sales. For the A3, clean diesel accounted for 54 percent of the sales mix.

Mitsubishi: Monthly Increase

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Sales at Mitsubishi Motors North America rose for the 11th consecutive month, up 41 percent at 7,972 cars and SUVs. It was the company’s best July since 2008 and crossovers once again led the charge as consumers continued to be drawn to the more-efficient car-based versions of the heavier sport utility vehicles that helped the company make its name in the U.S. The Outlander Sport, the 27 mpg (combined) crossover introduced this year was the company's leader at 1,571 sales. A national sales promotion helped triple sales of the larger Endeavor crossover, rated at just 18 mpg in combined city and highway driving. Dealers moved 1,115 Endeavors, versus just 368 a year earlier. The standard 25 mpg Outlander crossover – hurt a bit by its Sport model stablemate - dropped 27 percent to 951 sales. In all, Mitsubishi's crossovers accounted for 46 percent of the company's July sales and collectively posted a 117 percent gain from July 2010.

Mitsubishi's Lancer lineup lead the July car segment for the company but at 1,963 sales was down 26 percent from a year earlier. The mainstream Lancer subcompact sedan accounted for most of the total -1,625 sales - while the high-performance Lancer Evolution tallied 189 sales and the Lancer Sportback contributed 149 units to the total. The Galant sedan posted a 91 percent gain to 1,589 sales and the Eclipse sport coupe and convertible collectively rose 63 percent to 783 sales.

Volvo: Good Year So Far

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Volvo Cars of North America reported U.S. sales of 5,595 vehicles, a 29.5 percent increase in July over a year ago, led by the new S60 sports sedan with 1,584 units sold. Year-to-date sales for the Swedish automaker were up 28.8 percent over the first seven months of 2010. In Canada, Volvo sales were up 3.4 percent in July with a total of 736 vehicles sold, led by the XC60 crossover with 157 units sold. Year-to-date sales are up 6.8 percent in Canada.

Jaguar Land Rover: Falling Jag Sales

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Jaguar Land Rover North America sales flattened out as a 35 percent plunge in Jaguar sales erased a 23 percent gain by Land Rover. Combined, the two marques racked up 3,795 sales compared to 3,808 in July 2010. Land Rover, led by its Range Rover Sport model, posted 2,811 sales versus 2,292 a year earlier. Year to date sales for Land Rover North America were up 16 percent at 20,103 SUVs. Jaguar's July sales of 984 cars contrasted dismally to 1,516 in July 2010. The big cat has been hurting from a lack of new models and a slumping economy and despite a stellar June has gained only a fraction in year-to-date performance with 7-month sales of 7,394 scantly improved from 7,367 at this time last year.

Land Rover's monthly leader at 1,160 sales – a 46 percent gain over July 2010 - was the Range Rover Sport, followed by the Range Rover, 798 sales and a 28 percent increase; the LR4, up 23 percent to 640 sales, and the LR2, down 40 percent with 213 sales. The sales picture could brighten even more when the company launches the new Range Rover Evoque compact SUV this fall. At Jaguar, the leading model for July was the XF sport sedan, down 25 percent at 471 sales, followed by the XJ sedan, down 38 percent with 387 sales, and the XK line of coupe and convertible sports cars, collectively down 51 percent with 126 sales.

Porsche: Carried By Cayenne

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Porsche Cars North America, Inc. (PCNA) saw July sales climb a modest 2 percent compared to the same period last year, to 2,768 units. Though overall sales were up, year-over-year sales declined slightly across nearly the entire Porsche model lineup (Boxster/Cayman; 911; Panamera sedan), boosted only by the hot-selling new Cayenne SUV, which saw Y-O-Y sales jump 47 percent (1,342 in July 2011 vs. 910 in July 2010). PCNA year-to-date sales are up 34 percent to 18,310 units, compared to only 13,687 sales by the end of July last year. Porsche Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) sales were up 36 percent (779 vs. 573), with Y-T-D CPO sales at 5,137 compared to 4,369 last year.

Suzuki: Small But Smiling

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American Suzuki, buoyed by consumers' continuing drift toward smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles, posted a 25 percent sales gain to 2,447 cars and trucks. The company, whose lineup of sub $21,000 vehicles and all-wheel drive options attract economy-minded buyers with an outdoor bent, has been hampered by a tiny dealership network but still is managing to show growth as buyers discover its value-priced lineup. Its most popular vehicle, the compact SX4 – in sedan and hatchback trim – continued to lead with 1,184 sales, up 50 percent. The well-reviewed Kizashi midsize sedan posted a 12 percent gain with 662 sales; the Grand Vitara compact SUV followed with 386 sales for a 9 percent drop, and the Equator midsize pickup, with a 49 percent gain, wrapped things up for the 2011 model year lineup with 213 sales. Suzuki also reported sales of two of its XL7 SUVs, a model discontinued after the 2009 model year but still lingering in a few dealers' lots.

Saab: Down Month

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Saab sold only 384 vehicles in July, a decline from last July’s 471 cars. This month saw the addition of the General Motors-built 9-4X crossover, based on the Chevrolet Equinox and Cadillac SRX architecture. Saab sold 17 of them. The Swedish automaker, which has been on the brink of bankruptcy of late, sold 211 9-3 models, down from 457 a year ago, and 156 9-5 sedans, up from a mere eight a year ago. Saab appears to have significant supply of vehicles in inventory – 3,577 to be exact. But there likely is reluctance by consumers to buy a vehicle from a brand that has a questionable future.

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