But sales were up for some automakers. F-Series sales came in at 65,657 pickups, down 1% as Ford nears the launch of its reworked heavy-duty models. F-Series trucks sales were also down 1 percent as Ford prepares to launch a new Super Duty pickup.
GM, the largest USA automaker, said sales slid 1.9 percent, after analysts projected a 1 percent drop. Retail sales, though, grew 5%, driven by across-the-board increases at Chevrolet, GMC, Buick and Cadillac. Ford said its fleet sales rose 6 percent to 55,321 last month while retail demand dropped 6 percent to 161,158 cars and light trucks. Sales drop were driven by an 8.8 percent decline in auto sales partially offset by a 7.3 percent increase in truck sales.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU), the smallest of Detroit's Big Three, also benefited from the SUV buying frenzy. Gutierrez said automakers are approaching a level of incentive spending last seen during the recession, and that's risky.
"Our retail-focused plan is working and as availability of our new cars, trucks and crossovers continues to grow, we expect to keep our retail sales momentum going and our strong margins intact", said Kurt McNeil, U.S. vice president of Sales Operations, noting GM's daily rental deliveries are down 38% from a year ago. Its affiliate, Kelley Blue Book, said Tuesday that average new-vehicle prices rose 2.5 percent last month compared with a year earlier to $34,264. "More troubling for Ford is the retail sales dip of 6 percent, as both SUVs and cars were down this month". Strong sales of Honda's trucks and SUVs made up for an 8 percent sales decline at its luxury Acura division.
Ford SUV sales were down 5.3%, but sales of the Edge were up 4.9% and sales of the Expedition were up 118.4%. More Chevrolet Silverados and GMC Sierras, the dealers say, mean more sales. Analysts had been expecting a 3% increase. The industry is hoping for a long plateau at a healthy level, but the days of auto sales driving the USA economy appear to be over.
Citi analyst Itay Michaeli said sales volume should fall in August in part because of fewer weekends than in July. That marks the fifth-straight month, and the eighth in nine months, that vehicle sales have declined. The Japanese company sold a monthly record of 77,740 utility vehicles and pickups, a 10% gain year-over-year, while auto sales ticked 1% lower.
Analysts' estimates of July sales, on an annualized basis, ranged from 17.5 million to 18.1 million vehicles.
While some analysts believe low interest rates and gasoline prices, along with rising lease penetration, will continue to support growth, adding to 2015's record volume, others believe pent-up demand has been exhausted.
Jessica Caldwell, head of industry analysis at Edmunds, said automakers will have to create and promote more attractive financing offers to outperform 2015's sales output.
To date, U.S. sales for the Ford brand are up 3.2% at 1,507,132 vehicles delivered. A previous version of this article misstated that they rose.
Fiat Chrysler's sales were flat at 180,727.