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Published: 7/2/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

'Detroit 3' back in driver's seat in sales

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
The new Explorer SUV and the Focus compact are selling as fast as Ford Motor Co. can build them. The new Explorer SUV and the Focus compact are selling as fast as Ford Motor Co. can build them.
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It took a devastating act of God an ocean away, but the "Detroit 3" reclaimed their former "Big Three" monikers again last month when General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., and Chrysler Group LLC sold more cars in North America than their overseas competitors.

Toledo-made SUVs and the Jeep brand overall powered sales numbers for Chrysler in June, boosting the automaker's overall sales by 30 percent over June, 2010, to 120,394 units, its highest June level since 2007. GM's sales rose 11 percent to 215,335 units, while Ford climbed 10 percent to stay in its traditional second-place spot at 194,114.

Toyota Motors Corp. finished fourth for the month at 110,937 units and Honda Motor Co. placed sixth in sales at 83,892. Both Japanese automakers felt the sting of a 21 percent sales drop large part because of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck their country in March. The combined sales of the Korean Hyundai and Kia brands finished fifth at 104,253 units, up 25 percent.

June was the second month that GM, Ford, and Chrysler were first, second, and third, respectively, in North American sales -- the first time that has happened since 2006 -- and provided more evidence that domestic consumers are giving their in-country automakers' products a second look after decades of those companies losing market share to foreign competitors.

Sales of the iconic Toledo-made Jeep Wrangler trailed only the Ram pickup as Chrysler's top-selling vehicle in June at 11,290 units, up 27 percent from the 8,923 Wranglers sold during the same month a year ago. Meanwhile, sales of Jeep Liberty climbed 36 percent to 5,252 units in June, up from 3,865 units sold in June, 2010, while sales of the Liberty's line mate, the Dodge Nitro, climbed 25 percent to 1,994 units, up from 1,591 units for the same month a year ago.

For the year, Wrangler sales rose 15 percent to 53,236 vehicles; Liberty 41 percent to 31,300 units, and Nitro 33 percent to 12,158 units.

Overall, U.S. sales rose 7 percent to 1.05 million. Analysts had expected a double-digit gain.

Sales aren't expected to pick back up until fall, when Japanese production is at full capacity.

"Some consumers have decided to sit on their hands and delay their purchases," said Don Johnson, GM's vice president of U.S. sales.

Analysts said a slight drop in gas prices lured more pickup buyers.

Any jump in pickup sales helps the Detroit automakers, which sell more than five times as many pickups as foreign brands.

Ford said even pickup buyers had their eye on gas prices. More than half of F-150 buyers chose smaller V-6 engines over V-8s. It was the first time smaller engines outsold larger ones since the 1980s.

A GM vehicle, the Chevrolet Cruze small car, vaulted past perennial best-sellers such as the Toyota Camry and the Honda Civic to become the best-selling car in America.

Overall, Jeep vehicles sales grew 74 percent in June to 36,114 units, helped by strong sales of Grand Cherokee and the Compass, both of which grew by more than 200 percent year-over-year, the company said.

Industry analysts predict auto sales overall will keep rebounding from their 40-year lows in 2009, and reach 13 million vehicles sold during 2011.

"There are still people out there looking for a vehicle and in many cases need to replace their vehicles," said Mr. Johnson.

The average car on the road now is 10.6 years old, according to the Polk research firm.

The Blade's news services contributed to this report.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at: lvellequette@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.



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