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Fiat Chrysler, Nissan post big US sales gains for June, both boosted by small crossover SUVs

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DETROIT — Nissan's U.S. sales rose more than 13 percent in June, while Fiat Chrysler posed an 8 percent gain as the auto industry headed for another healthy sales month.

The Edmunds.com auto website predicts that by the time all automakers report sales on Wednesday, the total will rise about 5 percent to 1.48 million for the best June since 2006.

Fiat Chrysler was led by the Jeep brand, which posted a 25 percent sales increase as America's infatuation with SUVs continued. The brand sold almost 5,000 Renegades, a brand-new subcompact SUV. Jeep Cherokee small SUV sales were up 39 percent.

Nissan was led by its redesigned Rogue small SUV, which posted a 54 percent increase for a June sales record of more than 23,000.

Ford sales rose 2 percent, with strong sales of SUVs being offset by waning demand for cars. Sales of the redesigned Explorer SUV jumped 30 percent.

PHOTO: FILE - In this Dec. 2, 2014, file photo, Mike Johnson, a sales manager at a Honda car dealership, opens the hood of a Honda CRV SUV, in Tempe, Ariz. Automakers release vehicle sales for June 2015 on Wednesday, July 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 2, 2014, file photo, Mike Johnson, a sales manager at a Honda car dealership, opens the hood of a Honda CRV SUV, in Tempe, Ariz. Automakers release vehicle sales for June 2015 on Wednesday, July 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Sales at General Motors fell 3 percent, however. The largest U.S. automaker cut back on sales to rental companies, depressing overall results. GM reported a strong 19 percent gain in sales of its Silverado and Sierra pickups.

Buyers have an insatiable demand for new small and midsize SUVs like the Cherokee, Honda HR-V and Ford Edge. Sales of small SUVs were up 11 percent through May, or more than double the industry-wide sales increase of 4.5 percent, Kelley Blue Book said. KBB predicted small SUV sales would jump 19 percent in June.

Demand for SUVs is taking a bite out of car sales. Sales of midsize cars like the Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry have fallen 3 percent so far this year, and dealers offered promotions in June to clear them off their lots. Kia, for example, was offering zero-percent financing for up to 66 months and up to $1,500 on Optima and Forte sedans.

Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell said subcompact cars are under great pressure as buyers switch to smaller SUVs. Subcompacts, she said, spent an average of 99 days on a dealer lot before selling, 21 days longer than in June of last year.

U.S. auto sales were so strong in the first six months of this year that Kelley Blue Book raised its full-year forecast from 16.9 million vehicles to 17.1 million. U.S. auto sales haven't topped 17 million since 2001.

Lots of factors, including higher employment, low interest rates, a climbing stock market and low gas prices, are boosting auto sales. Automakers are also helping themselves by introducing new vehicles faster and loading them up with desirable features like backup cameras and smartphone compatibility. The average new vehicle cost an estimated $30,452 in June, according to J.D. Power and Associates.

"This is arguably the strongest and healthiest the auto industry has been in a very long time," said Jeff Schuster, a senior vice president at the forecasting firm LMC Automotive.

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