DETROIT — From minicars to monster pickups, sales of new cars and trucks surged in June. Automakers sold nearly 1.3 million cars and trucks in June, up 22 percent from the same month last year. Chrysler posted its best June in five years. Sales soared at Volkswagen, which is on track for its best year in the United States since 1973.
The results allayed fears that growth would stall after a strong start to 2012. Earlier in the spring, sales were on track to reach 14.5 million this year, boosted by mild weather and the post-earthquake return of Japanese cars to dealers. But the pace dropped to 13.8 million in May, as the stock market plunged and hiring slowed. In June, there was more bad news about jobs growth, and consumer confidence fell for the fourth straight month.
But buyers didn't go away. June's sales pace rose to 14.1 million, according to Autodata Corp. And if sales stay at that rate for all of 2012, it will be the industry's best year since 2007. Falling gas prices, cheaper loans and new models like the Ford Escape and Dodge Dart drew buyers.
Automakers also started their Independence Day promotions a little early, and that juiced sales at the end of the month.
"In the last two weeks we really went all out," said Bill Underriner, who sells Volvo, Buick, Honda and Hyundai cars in Billings, Mont.
Colorful ads with holiday deals excited buyers, said Jessica Caldwell, a senior analyst with pricing site Edmunds.com.
The Buick Verano small car — one of Underriner's big sellers last month — is now $239 per month for a two-year lease. That's $50 less than usual.
Low interest rates are also helping. The average interest rate on a 60-month new-car loan is 4.5 percent, down from 6.98 percent two years ago, according to Bankrate.com. Credit availability is also improving.
"The affordability of cars is probably at an all-time high," Chrysler Group sales chief Reid Bigland said last week.
Falling gas prices meant buyers were more likely to consider bigger cars and SUVs in June, not just the small cars that sold well at the start of the year. Jeep Liberty SUV sales rose 50 percent and the Ford Explorer jumped 35 percent.