U.S. auto sales strong in July on SUV, luxury demand

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DETROIT (AP) — Summer deals and big demand for SUVs and luxury vehicles kept U.S. auto sales strong in July.

Sales of new cars and trucks were expected to rise 3 percent to nearly 1.5 million, according to car shopping site TrueCar.com.

General Motors and Fiat Chrysler both saw 6 percent sales gains over last July, while Honda and Nissan both saw 8-percent gains. Ford’s U.S. sales rose 5 percent. Volkswagen sales rose 2 percent. Toyota’s sales were flat, hurt by a big dip in car sales.

Other automakers will report July sales later Monday.

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Automakers benefited from relatively low gas prices and surging sales of SUVs. Sales of Nissan’s new Rogue jumped 51 percent. Ford’s Escape, Edge and Explorer SUVs all saw double-digit percentage gains. Sales of GM’s Buick Encore small SUV jumped 68 percent.

Summer discounts to clear out 2015 models also lured buyers. Sales of midsize sedans have been struggling as buyers pass them over for small SUVs, so automakers tried to entice buyers last month with zero-percent financing deals on the Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion and Nissan Altima. It worked. Altima sales rose 27 percent and set a new July record.

Deals aren’t the only motivator. Buyers are showing their confidence with an increasing penchant for luxury vehicles. TrueCar said sales of luxury vehicles are rising at double the pace of mass-market brands.

Sales of Ford’s Lincoln luxury brand jumped 21 percent in July. The brand sold 785 Lincoln Navigators; that’s 25 per day at more than $62,000 apiece. Sales of Nissan’s luxury Infiniti brand climbed 22 percent on demand for the QX60 SUV and the new Q70 sedan.

Here are more details, by automaker:

— GM’s sales rose 6 percent to 272,512. Buick sales jumped 18 percent, but Cadillac sales were down. GMC and Chevrolet sales were up thanks to demand for trucks. Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck sales were up 34 percent in July.

— Ford’s sales were up 5 percent to 222,731. F-Series pickup sales, which had been down due to lack of inventory as a new truck went into production, were up 5 percent. But Ford’s car sales fell 4 percent.

— Toyota’s sales were up less than 1 percent to 217,181. Sales of the Tacoma small pickup jumped 29 percent, while Lexus SUV sales were up 28 percent thanks to the new NX small SUV. But car sales were down. Prius hybrid sales dropped 13 percent.

— Fiat Chrysler’s sales rose 6 percent to 178,027. Jeep sales increased 23 percent and Ram sales rose 1 percent, but Dodge and Fiat sales were down.

— Honda’s sales rose 8 percent to 146,324. Honda’s SUV and truck sales jumped 13 percent, led by the CR-V SUV and the Odyssey minivan. Honda’s car sales were up 3 percent.

— Nissan’s sales rose nearly 8 percent to 130,872. Nissan said sales of its trucks and SUVs set a new July record, but low gas prices took a toll on the electric Nissan Leaf, which saw sales drop 61 percent.

— Volkswagen’s sales rose 2.4 percent to 31,300 vehicles. Sales of the new Golf and Jetta sedans more than doubled over last July.

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