* Sales finish up 9 pct at 1.4 mln vehicles in June
* Industry rides coattails of improving U.S. housing market
* GM, Ford, Toyota results blow past expectations
* Consumers believe economic expansion will continue -GM
* Ford stock up 2.8 pct, GM shares up 0.3 pct
(Adds final sales figures, industry details, closing stock
By Ben Klayman and Bernie Woodall
DETROIT, July 2 Detroit's automakers gained
market share in the first half of the year for the first time in
two decades, as demand in June for brawny pickup trucks drove
the U.S. auto industry to its strongest month since late 2007.
General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co posted
stronger-than-expected sales on Tuesday, and Chrysler Group's
results met analysts' high expectations as the improving U.S.
housing market led to surging demand for such full-size pickups
as the Chevrolet Silverado and the Ford F-150. Japan's Toyota
Motor Corp also reported surprisingly strong June U.S.
"American families are better off than they were at the
beginning of the year," Kurt McNeil, head of U.S. sales for GM,
said on a conference call. "They also believe that the economic
expansion is going to continue, so they're buying more homes,
and more cars and trucks."
He said stable gasoline prices, an improving employment
picture and a rising stock market are boosting consumer
confidence. In other good news, U.S. home prices racked up their
biggest annual gain in more than seven years in May, data
analysis firm CoreLogic said on Tuesday.
The auto industry has held up better than the broader
economy partly because of consumers' need to replace aging
vehicles, which now average more than 11 years.
Overall U.S. auto industry sales in June rose 9 percent to
1.4 million vehicles, and finished the month with the strongest
annual sales pace, at 15.96 million vehicles, since November
'EVERYTHING LINING UP'
"Consumer confidence is really high right now," said Fred
Diaz, head of U.S. sales for Nissan Motor Co Ltd's
namesake brand. "Everything is lining up for good, healthy auto
sales for the remainder of the year."
Monthly sales are seen as an early indicator of the U.S.
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.
Ford executives have said demand for the big pickups, which
through May has grown three times faster than the overall
industry, is so strong that sales this year should top 2 million
for the first time since 2007. That plays to the U.S.
automakers' traditional strengths.
Another factor driving the demand for large pickups is the
need to replace aging vehicles. More than half of those trucks
on U.S. roads are over 11 years old, Ford U.S. sales chief Ken
Czubay said on a call. GM said full-size pickups made up 11.7
percent of sales in June, up two-tenths of a point from May.
"It appears that that pace is not going to slow down anytime
soon," TrueCar.com analyst Jesse Toprak said of truck sales.
He also pointed out that the three U.S. automakers each
gained market share in the first half of the year for the first
time in 20 years, due to the strong demand for pickups. This
demand may increase in the second half of the year, he said.
SILVERADO, SIERRA SHINE
GM's U.S. sales last month 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 percent. Boding well for the overall economy, the company's
retail sales growth was a robust 14 percent, while sales of the
big trucks to small business customers soared 49 percent.
Sales of the No. 1 U.S. automaker's two top-selling
vehicles, the Chevy Silverado pickup and Cruze small car, rose
29 percent and 73 percent, respectively. Sales of the GMC Sierra
pickup were up a third.
GM's June pickup sales included more than 6,000 of the
all-new 2014 Silverado and Sierra trucks. Roughly 50 percent of
production and 25 percent of sales this year will be the new
models, GM officials said.
The pickups, last redesigned in 2006, are the most important
vehicle introduction for the Detroit automaker since its
bankruptcy. A marketing campaign for the new Silverado will
begin in Texas on Thursday.
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. Its F-150 pickup saw sales jump 24
Sales at Chrysler, majority-owned by Italy's Fiat SpA
, 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 2007.
In late 2007, the U.S. auto industry was sliding toward
recession, with GM and Ford losing billions of dollars, closing
underused plants and cutting jobs. All three U.S. automakers
have since grown so strong that they collectively exported about
1 million U.S.-made vehicles last year, according to the
American Automotive Policy Council, a trade group that
represents the U.S. automakers.
Sales at Toyota, the third-largest automaker in the U.S.
market, rose a far stronger than expected 10 percent to 195,235
vehicles. Sales for Nissan and Honda Motor Co
Ltd also came in stronger than expected. Nissan rose 13
percent to 104,124 vehicles, while Honda finished up 10 percent
Hyundai Motor Co's U.S. sales rose 2 percent to
65,007 vehicles last month.
Ford shares closed 2.8 percent higher at $16.18 and GM
shares closed up 0.3 percent at $34.10 on the New York Stock
Exchange on Tuesday.
(Additional reporting by Deepa Seetharaman in Detroit; editing
by John Wallace and Matthew Lewis)