By Jeff Gilbert

DETROIT (WWJ) – The second half of 2013 is starting off the way the first half ended — with very strong car sales reports.

The seasonally adjusted annual sales rate, around 15.8 million, is running slightly below June’s rate.  But sales overall are trending up around 14 percent from 2012, a very strong showing.

“Continuing its strong momentum in July, retail sales continue to give the industry its much-needed boost for 2013, proving that car shoppers are ready to return to market,” said Jared Rowe, president for Kelley Blue Book.  “Some of the industry’s major players also are seeing double-digit growth from increased consumer demand, with some reporting record sales not seen since before the recession.”

Honda lead the way with a 21 percent sales increase.

“In July, all of our core models – Civic, Accord, Odyssey and CRV – showed double-digit gains,” said John Mendel, executive vice president of sales at American Honda.

General Motors and Toyota both posted sales increases in the 16 percent range.  Ford and Chrysler and Nissan saw their sales rise 11 percent.

“Not only are we seeing great results from housing,” said GM Sales Operations Manager Kurt McNeil.  “We’re definitely seeing the American consumer come back to the business.”

All three companies had great pickup truck sales.   GM, with a mix of old and new, saw it’s truck rise by 44 percent.  Chrysler’s Ram brand saw sales up 31 percent.  The Ford F-150 also had a great July, with sales up 23 percent.

“Pickup trucks have come back, and they kept selling well through much of the spring, and continue to sell well,” said analyst Jeff Schuster with LMC Automotive.

But it was also a great month for compact cars,  midsize cars and small SUV’s.

“I think the fact that everything is selling is really good news for the auto industry,” said senior analyst Jessica Caldwell.

July was a record month for Ford’s small Escape.

“We saw continued strength and growth in our retail business, particularly in the coastal regions of the country,” said Ken Czubay, Ford vice president, U.S. marketing, sales and service. “Our small cars and hybrids continue to attract new customers to Ford and away from our competitors, thanks to the vehicles’ combination of styling, technology, fuel economy and performance.”

Czubay says Ford could sell more Fusions, if they could make them.  That’s why the company is in the process of gearing up the Flat Rock Assembly plant to build Fusions.

For Chrysler, July saw the continuation of a trend that had been developing for more than three years.

“We continue to see strong retail sales, particularly with our pickup trucks and SUVs, and that has helped to propel Chrysler Group to our 40th consecutive month of year-over-year sales growth,” said Reid Bigland, Head of U.S. Sales.

This sets up the industry for a strong finish to the year.  Ford chief economist Ellen Hughes-Cromwick said sales are being fueled by a recovering economy, and a car fleet that has been aging.

“Now, frankly, what we’re seeing is housing support sales and that replacement demand, but also–on the margin–maybe a little bit of discretionary purchases, as people bring back their demand for newness.”

Connect with Jeff Gilbert
Twitter: @jefferygilbert

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