Pickups driving auto sales

Auto sales in the United States topped 7.8 million in the first six months of 2013, the best first half since 2007, according to Autodata Corp. and AutoInfoBank.

Analysts expect total sales of around 15.5 million cars and trucks in 2013, which would be 1 million more than in 2012. New cars and trucks sold at an annualized rate of 15.96 million in June, the fastest monthly pace since December 2007.

Demand for big pickups has been the driving force. GM, Ford and Chrysler sold 157,480 full-size pickup trucks combined in June. That is up about 25 percent from the same month a year ago and almost double the number the companies sold in June 2009, a year when total sales sank to a 30-year low.

GM said its new Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, which went on sale last month, are spending just 10 days on dealer lots before being sold. A 60-day stay is typical.

Pickup truck sales have been strong locally.

“We are seeing a lot of truck sales. Our F-150 sales are up at least 10 percent over last year, which was up over previous years,” said Bob Bradley, sales manager at Courtesy Ford Kia Lincoln, Altoona.

“Chevy Silverados are selling extremely well,” said Dan Cobaugh, sales manager at Zeigler Chevrolet, Claysburg.

Small and subcompact cars sales also were strong, possibly because young graduates went shopping for a new car, said Kelley Blue Book analyst Alec Gutierrez. Relatively high gas prices also may have steered some buyers to more fuel-efficient models, he said. Gas averaged $3.60 a gallon nationwide in June, or 10 cents more than a year ago.

Sales of Ford’s recently updated Fiesta subcompact more than doubled, while the Hyundai Elantra saw a 22-percent gain.

Family-haulers also did well to start the summer road trip season. Honda said sales of its Odyssey minivan jumped 26 percent. The Toyota RAV4 SUV was up 36 percent, while sales of the Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV rose 33 percent.

Overall, local dealers said they have been busy during the first six months of 2013.

“Business is brisk. We are selling cars; we can’t get them fast enough. The incentives and rebates are the best they have been in a long time. There is also built-up demand. People have been holding off and holding off. They realize the economy is improving, and there is no reason not to buy,” Cobaugh said.

“Our sales have been pretty strong; they have not been slow by any means,” said Jim Hetrick, sales manager at Courtesy Dodge Chrysler Jeep Nissan, Altoona. “Sales across the board, both new and used for us, are up about 10 percent, but the increase is higher in new sales.”

“Pickup trucks are remarkably strong,” Hetrick said. “We have seen an increase in performance cars like the Challenger.”

Many people are trading in their older vehicles, Bradley said.

“It is probably because of pent-up demand, customers who have wanted to trade are finally pulling the trigger,” Bradley said.

Sales have been strong at Five Star Mitsubishi – formerly Five Star Suzuki – in Altoona, said owner Greg Sloan.

“We sold 60 plus new vehicles last month,” he said.

“In less than three months we sold over 150 new Mitsubishis. It is a good product. We had some loyal customers who switched over from Suzuki to Mitsubishi,” Sloan said. “I’ve traded a lot of Suzuki’s but traded as many other brands as well. Mitsubishi has not had a strong representation in this market for several years; that is creating some excitement.”

Local dealers expect to be busy during the second half of the year.

“I expect to average 60 new cars a month here,” Sloan said. “My used car business has also been strong. We sold over 100 cars, new and used, last month.”

“This month started out strong. I don’t see any change unless there is a big change in the economy,” Hetrick said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467. The Associated Press contributed to this story.