GM Ford Nissan and Fiat Chrysler logos Justin Sullivan, Getty Images; inset: Harold Cunningham (2), Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Nissan, Ford Beat US Sales Estimates, While GM, FCA Miss Out

Analysts had projected gains for all of the six largest automakers except GM. Now, according to one of those analysts, “there certainly is a higher probability of having a slightly down year than there was a month ago. It’s a potential contraction in the second half of the year.”

General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV reported U.S. sales in June that were less than analysts had estimated, while Nissan Motor Co. and Ford Motor Co. beat projections as the industry faces concerns that the market is slowing and that the U.K.’s decision to exit the European Union will generate new headwinds.

GM sales fell 1.6% as the largest U.S. automaker continues to reduce less-profitable business with rental fleets. The Detroit-based company said retail sales to individual consumers rose more than 1%. Nissan sales jumped 13% with gains balanced among cars and trucks, while Ford’s 6.4% light-vehicle increase and FCA’s 6.5% growth were led by pickups and sport utility vehicles. Analysts projected gains for all of the six largest automakers except General Motors Co.

“In spite of some severe stock market volatility in June, the American consumer stayed focused on buying new vehicles and propelled FCA to six vehicle sales records last month,” sales chief Reid Bigland said in a statement.

Yet even as U.S. industrywide sales through May outpaced 2015, analysts surveyed by Bloomberg were taking a less optimistic view for this year. Their average outlook for the full year slid to below 17.7 million cars and light trucks, from an estimate of 17.8 million in January.

Strong truck sales drove Ford’s June light-vehicle deliveries to beat estimates of a 4.9% gain. The automaker also said its sales in the first half of the year were the best in a decade.

F-Series pickup sales surged 29% in June to 70,937 units. Sales of Transit commercial vans rose 19%, while those of Escape SUV rose 20%. Ford’s sedans continued to struggle, led by a 49% drop in sales of the subcompact Fiesta and a 44% decline in Taurus deliveries.

FCA deliveries totaled 197,073, shy of the 8.9% gain analysts had projected. Jeep sales rose 17%, but car and minivan deliveries fell 13%.

Nissan deliveries in June reached 140,553, the company said in a statement Friday. On average, analysts had predicted a 7.2% gain. The Nissan brand set a June record with balanced growth: Car sales rose 13%, light truck sales rose 14%. Sales of premium Infiniti models increased 11%.

For June, analysts projected a 17.2 million seasonally-adjusted annual selling rate, which would exceed the 17 million pace in the year-earlier month while trailing May’s 17.5 million mark.

The reduced full-year estimate came as U.S. employers in May added the fewest jobs in six years and as the British vote last week to leave the EU spooked financial markets.

“There certainly is a higher probability of having a slightly down year than there was a month ago,” Jeff Schuster, an analyst with research firm LMC Automotive, said in an interview. “It’s no longer just a leveling off — it’s a potential contraction in the second half of the year.”

The real question is whether growth has peaked. The year was already at a critical pivot point as prospects dim for a repeat of 2015, when a slow first half gave way to an ebullient final six months starting in July in which the annual sales rate often exceeded 18 million. One reason for the nervousness: U.S. employers added the fewest jobs in almost six years in May.

“If we don’t see that bump up in July” sales, LMC’s Schuster said, “that’s going to start us down that path of fairly regular misses on a monthly basis.”

By Polina Noskova, with assistance from John Lear and Keith Naughton

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