(Corrects first bullet point to "best monthly sales rate"
instead of "best June")
* Could be U.S. auto industry's best monthly sales rate
since late 2007
* GM, Ford, Nissan results stronger than expected
* Consumers believe economic expansion will continue -GM
* GM shares up 1.7 pct, Ford up 2 pct
By Ben Klayman and Bernie Woodall
DETROIT, July 2 Sales of big, brawny pickup
trucks fueled strong demand for new vehicles in the United
States in June, driving the industry toward its strongest month
since before the recession that drove General Motors Co
and Chrysler into bankruptcy.
GM and Ford Motor Co posted stronger-than-expected
sales, and Chrysler Group's sales met analysts' expectations as
the improving U.S. housing market led to surging demand for
full-size pickups at all the U.S. automakers. Toyota Motor Corp
also reported surprisingly strong U.S. sales.
"America's families are better off than they were at the
beginning of the year and they believe - with good justification
- that the economic expansion is going to continue," GM Chief
Economist Mustafa Mohatarem said in a statement.
Overall U.S. auto industry sales in June are expected to
show a rise of up to 8 percent compared with a year earlier and
could reach their strongest monthly pace since the recession
pushed Chrysler and GM to seek bankruptcy protection in 2009.
Economists polled by Thomson Reuters expect an annual sales
rate in June of 15.4 million vehicles. Several analysts and
research firms that follow the auto industry expect a rate of
15.5 million to 15.7 million.
Chrysler, majority-owned by Italy's Fiat SpA, falls
in the optimists' camp as it expects a sales pace in the month
of about 16 million vehicles, including medium and heavy trucks.
On that basis, Ford expects the industry to finish in the range
of just over 16 million vehicles.
Medium and heavy trucks typically account for about 300,000
"The fundamentals for continued industry gains in
new-vehicle sales remain intact," Chrysler U.S. sales chief,
Reid Bigland, said in a statement.
GM expects a rate of 15.8 million, which would be the
highest rate since November 2007. Volkswagen AG
executives anticipate something in the mid-15 million range.
Monthly sales are seen as an early indicator of the U.S.
economy's health. The auto industry has held up better than the
broader economy as easier credit availability and pent-up demand
for vehicles have driven demand.
In May, U.S. auto sales rose more than expected as
construction workers and oil drillers bought more pickups to
meet growing demand for their services, a trend major automakers
expect to continue through the rest of the year.
GM's sales came in far higher than expected, rising 6.5
percent to 264,843 cars and trucks, or their highest level for
June since 2008. Analysts had expected growth closer to 2
Sales of the No. 1 U.S. automaker's two top-selling
vehicles, the Chevrolet Silverado pickup and Cruze small car,
rose 29 percent and 73 percent, respectively. Sales of the GMC
Sierra pickup were up a third.
Ford's sales also came in stronger than expected with an
increase of 13.4 percent to 235,643 vehicles, above the 11
percent gain Wall Street had expected. It was the best June
result for Ford since 2006. The company's F-150 pickup saw sales
jump 24 percent.
Chrysler's sales rose 8 percent to 156,686 vehicles on
strong demand for its two best-selling vehicles, the Ram
full-size pickup (up 24 percent) and Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV (up
33 percent). It was the best June total for the automaker since
Toyota's sales rose a far stronger than expected 10 percent
to 195,235 vehicles. Nissan's June U.S. sales also came in
stronger than expected, rising 13 percent to 104,124 vehicles.
GM shares were up 1.7 percent at $34.59 on Tuesday morning
on the New York Stock Exchange. Ford shares were up 2 percent at
(Editing by John Wallace and Matthew Lewis)