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US car sales mostly up through June as larger vehicles reign

New York

LEADING carmakers on Tuesday reported mostly higher US sales for the first half of 2018, bolstered by a strengthening economy and continued robust demand for larger vehicles despite rising petrol prices.

General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota and Volkswagen all reported higher sales through the end of June, while Ford and Honda reported a modest decline even as they described overall market conditions as robust.

Some analysts have been cautious on the outlook for US car sales given rising interest rates and trade tariff announcements, which could also inflate the costs of vehicles. But carmakers said US market conditions remained healthy amid solid employment trends and a lift from US tax cuts.

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The figures lifted the seasonally adjusted annual rate of US car sales to 17.5 million, according to data released by Motor Intelligence.com. That was above the level of 17.1 million predicted by auto analysts at Edmunds.com

"Customers are buying with confidence because the economy is strong and they expect it to remain strong," said Kurt McNeil, General Motors US vice-president of sales operations.

GM, the biggest US carmaker, reported a 4.2 per cent increase in first-half sales to 1.5 million, with sales rising 4.6 per cent in the second quarter to 758,376. It cited double-digit increases in deliveries of pick-up trucks and large SUVs in the second quarter.

"Tax reform raised take-home pay, consumer confidence is high and household balance sheets are healthy," said GM chief economist Elaine Buckberg.

Ford executives said the effects of US trade tensions were too uncertain to predict at this point but they agreed with the upbeat assessment of US market conditions.

June sales were "really solid", said Mark LaNeve, Ford vice-president for US marketing sales and service. Ford's sales declined 1.8 per cent for the first half of 2018 to 1.3 million but rose 1.2 per cent in June to 230,635.

He added that demand for pick-up trucks and other large vehicles was "amazing", with no sign of customers avoiding the vehicles despite higher petrol prices. US petrol prices are about 28 per cent higher than a year ago.

"When the (price increase) is gradual, it doesn't trigger a shift. It's when people are afraid they can't get petrol, you see a change."

Ford's sedan sales fell 12.6 per cent in the first half of 2018, while truck sales rose 4.2 per cent in the same period. SUV sales slipped 0.7 per cent.

Mr LaNeve said consumers were showing surprisingly strong appetite for more gadgets and other "up-level" features, boosting vehicle prices.

Honda's sales also dipped in the first six months of the year, dropping 0.5 per cent. But June sales rose 4.8 per cent from June 2017.

At FCA, sales in the first half of the year rose five per cent to 1.1 million. They were bolstered by the Jeep and Ram Truck brands.

Toyota reported a 3 per cent increase in car sales for the first half of the year to 1.2 million. It had lower sales for Toyota and Lexus brand cars during this period but higher sales for trucks for both brands.

Volkswagen reported a 5.7 per cent increase in June 2018 sales to 28,941. It has seen a 7.2 per cent rise in first-half sales to 172,898. AFP