Honda, Toyota Mid-Size Clash Aids Asian Makers’ U.S. Gain

Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. led U.S. volume gains in July for Asia-based automakers as they battled for mid-size sedan sales leadership amid intense competition from Ford Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co.

Honda beat analysts’ estimates with a 21 percent increase. Toyota’s deliveries rose 17 percent, matching expectations and topping Ford’s for the first time in more than three years. Nissan’s 11 percent gain trailed estimates, and combined sales for South Korean affiliates Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. grew 4.5 percent, more than anticipated.

Low interest rates and competitive leases, particularly on mid-size models such as Toyota’s Camry, are helping boost U.S. auto sales as the economy strengthens. Industry demand remains on pace for its best showing in six years as consumers replace the oldest cars and trucks ever on U.S. roads.

“Camry held on to the top spot in the top-selling segment in the country, but it came with a price,” said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst at “Camry incentives are at its highest level in nearly two years” and are four times more than those of Honda’s Accord, she said.

Camry Incentives

Toyota offered incentives averaging $2,581 for each Camry sold in July, compared with $627 per Accord, said, a vehicle pricing and data company in Santa Monica, California.

Honda’s gain was the best among large-volume carmakers, contributing to a 14 percent increase in industrywide sales to 1.32 million light vehicles, according to Autodata Corp. Along with demand for Camrys and Accords, U.S.-based automakers’ more-competitive cars and fuel-efficient pickups are driving demand.

The increases for Toyota, Honda and Nissan gave Asia-based automakers a 47.5 percent market share in July, according to Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey-based Autodata.

Toyota rose 3.4 percent to close at 6,430 yen in Tokyo trading, extending its climb this year to 61 percent, beating the 39 percent increase of the broader Topix index. Honda advanced 2.9 percent to 3,710 yen and has gained 18 percent this year.

July sales of Toyota, Lexus and Scion models totaled 193,394, the Toyota City, Japan-based company said yesterday in a statement. That edged Ford’s 193,080 cars and light trucks, ranking Toyota behind only General Motors Co. in U.S. volume for the first time since March 2010, according to Autodata.

‘We’re Fine’

Sales of Camry, the best-selling U.S. car for more than a decade, rose 16 percent to 34,780. Toyota has said it expects to sell at least 400,000 of the model this year. While incentives have risen, they aren’t out of line for Camry, Bill Fay, group vice president for U.S. Toyota sales, said in a conference call.

“We’re fine,” he said yesterday. “In general our incentive spending is still way below the industry average.”

Toyota’s incentives across its brands averaged $1,960 in July, compared with $2,684 for the industry, according to TrueCar, a Santa Monica-based vehicle data company. Honda spent an average of $1,868 and Hyundai and Kia’s combined incentives were $1,789, according to TrueCar.

“Camry is pretty well optimized for the moment, and I don’t think we need to ring the bell for Camry spending just yet,” said Jesse Toprak, a TrueCar analyst.

Acura MDX

Toyota also benefited from sales increases of 40 percent for Prius hybrids and 26 percent for Lexus luxury vehicles.

Asia’s biggest carmaker today raised its profit forecast by 8 percent to 1.48 trillion yen ($15 billion) for the year ending March, as the weaker yen bolsters the value of cars sold overseas. Toyota’s net income for the quarter ended June almost doubled to 562.2 billion yen.

Honda delivered 141,439 Honda and Acura vehicles last month, and its increase surpassed the 16 percent average estimate of seven analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. The gain for the Tokyo-based automaker helped rank it fourth in U.S. sales, ahead of Chrysler Group LLC. That hadn’t happened since April 2011, according to Autodata.

Accord sales rose 10 percent to 31,507, and Honda’s Civic ranked as the market’s second best-selling car in July behind Camry, with 32,416, its best-ever volume for the month. Better-than-expected sales of the new Acura MDX crossover helped Honda beat projections, said Kelley Blue Book analyst Alec Gutierrez.

“No one anticipated a 29 percent increase for MDX,” Gutierrez said in a phone interview yesterday. “To see a large luxury crossover take off like that with fuel prices rising a bit was a surprise.”

Nissan Record

Nissan’s sales set a company record for the month. Deliveries of the Yokohama, Japan-based automaker’s Altima mid-size car rose 11 percent, and its Pathfinder SUV more than tripled.

“This is the third consecutive month that Nissan North America has set sales records,” Fred Diaz, U.S. vice president of Nissan brand sales and marketing, said in an interview. “The new Pathfinder is continuing to do very well.”

Nissan’s increase for the month was short of the 13 percent average of seven analyst estimates. A 33 percent drop for its Infiniti line pared the company’s July gains as the brand awaits the start of sales of the new Q50 luxury car.

The combined Hyundai-Kia increase of 4.5 percent to 115,009 vehicles exceeded the 3.4 percent average of seven analyst estimates. The Seoul-based carmakers have trailed industrywide sales growth in every month since September. Deliveries of Hyundai’s Elantra small car increased 29 percent.

Among other Asia-based automakers, the Subaru brand of Tokyo-based Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. had a 43 percent sales increase, and Hiroshima, Japan-based Mazda Motor Corp. reported a 29 percent gain.

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