U.S. auto sales slipped in June from the previous month and major automakers said there was no sign of the second-half recovery the battered industry had expected at the start of the year.
Monthly U.S. sales results for the Detroit automakers were up by double-digit percentages from June 2009, a month when Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy and General Motors Co filed for protection from its creditors.
But overall sales were down from May, raising questions about whether the industry and investors overestimated the strength of what is shaping up as a very limited recovery from the depressed 2009 levels.
June came in fairly anemic, said Al Castignetti, who heads Nissan brand sales in the United States. I think a lot of people are looking at housing and other indicators and just delaying big-ticket purchases.
On the annualized basis tracked by analysts and investors, U.S. auto sales slipped to 11.08 million vehicles in June, down from 11.6 million in May and below the 11.15 million average of the first half, according to industry tracking firm Autodata.
Chrysler, now controlled by Fiat SpA , reported a 35 percent sales increase but declined to detail the share of those sales that went to retail customers.
Ford Motor Co sales were up 13 percent, while GM posted an 11 percent sales increase, the same gain recorded by Nissan Motor Co <7201.T>.
Other major Japanese automakers trailed: Toyota Motor Co <7203.T> was up 7 percent and Honda Motor Co <7267.T> was up 6 percent.
Hyundai Motor Co <005380.KS> bucked the trend again in the sputtering U.S. markets with a 35 percent sales gain.
The Korean automaker posted a 25 percent gain in sales the first half of 2010 but warned that industry-wide demand was running below forecasts in the world's No. 2 vehicle market.
We don't see the recovery reversing but we are anticipating that for an extended period of time we are going to get this choppiness, said Paul Ballew, chief economist at U.S. insurer Nationwide in Columbus, Ohio.
Ballew, a former GM sales analyst, said he had reduced his forecast for 2010 sales by 500,000 vehicles to the low 11 million vehicle range.
Some analysts had expected 2010 U.S. auto sales to rebound as high as 12.5 million vehicles, up from the 10.6 million sales recorded in 2009. But the high end of that full-year sales forecast now appears out of reach, executives said.
The lower-than-expected U.S. sales come as weaker sales in France and the prospect of higher taxes in markets like Spain deepened concern about a double-dip.
Hyundai's North America chief, John Krafcik, said the Korean automaker now expects that U.S. sales for 2010 will end up around 11.3 million vehicles.
Toyota said it expected full-year sales would end at around 11.5 million vehicles.
There's no question that the industry's recovery will be a slow process and there will be some bumps along the way, said Bob Carter, chief of the Toyota brand in the U.S. market.
GM Chief Executive Ed Whitacre, speaking to reporters in Texas, said the automaker was pressing ahead with its plans for a stock offering, despite wobbly consumer confidence.
RETAIL SALES GAIN LIMITED
Analysts and some auto dealers have said the practice of reporting overall U.S. sales numbers has obscured an unusually weak recovery in consumer demand in 2010.
U.S. automakers have traditionally relied on sales to fleet customers, including car rental agencies, for a larger share of their overall sales than European and Japanese auto brands.
That category of sales is less profitable and more volatile than auto sales to consumers through dealerships.
Ford said fleet sales accounted for about 37 percent of its overall sales in June, including 14 percent of its sales that went to car rental agencies.
GM said its share of such fleet sales was about 31 percent. Chrysler declined to provide a similar figure that would put its overall sales gain in perspective.
On an industry-wide basis, fleet sales have accounted for about a fifth of overall sales for the past five years.
After stripping out fleet sales, Ford said it estimated that industry-wide retail sales in June were running as low as 8.5 million units in June.
One of the stand-out trends in June sales was that sales of trucks and SUVs were stronger than overall vehicle sales, a bounce automakers attributed to continued steady gas prices.
Ford's F-Series pickup truck line -- the automaker's best-selling and most profitable products -- gained 30 percent from a year earlier.
Sales of the Chevy Silverado were up 25 percent, while sales of the GMC Sierra jumped 27 percent. Chrysler's Ram truck line trailed its rivals with a 7 percent gain.
(Writing by Kevin Krolicki, editing by Matthew Lewis)