General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler, bolstered by employee discounts for all customers, led the second-biggest month ever for U.S.S. auto sales...

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General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler, bolstered by employee discounts for all customers, led the second-biggest month ever for U.S. auto sales. Toyota, Nissan and Honda also reported gains in July.

U.S. auto sales rose to an annualized 20.9 million units in July, compared with 17.2 million a year earlier, according to Autodata. GM, the world’s largest automaker, said its U.S. sales of cars and trucks rose 15 percent, while Ford posted a gain of 29 percent and DaimlerChrysler’s sales of Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz vehicles increased 25 percent.

The three automakers said they’ll continue to offer employee prices to customers through Sept. 5. The promotions, started by GM in June following a $1.1 billion first-quarter loss, lifted demand for other automakers’ vehicles by encouraging consumers to visit all dealerships.

July’s sales were second only to the 21.3 million annualized units sold in October 2001, when automakers led by GM offered no-interest financing to boost demand after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

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The latest program may depress sales in coming months after encouraging customers who had planned to purchase 2005 model cars in the fall to buy in July, GM sales analyst Paul Ballew said.

Toyota, which along with Nissan and Honda didn’t offer the discounts, reported that sales rose 8.1 percent to a record 216,417 vehicles. Nissan said it sold 107,300 vehicles, a record for the month and 15 percent more than the 93,297 it reported in July 2004.

Honda reported sales of 143,217 vehicles, 10.3 percent more than the 129,872 it sold a year ago. Hyundai sold a record 44,431 vehicles, 10.7 percent more than a year ago.