Sales of the Lordstown-built Chevrolet Cruze fell 23.8 percent in June from the same month in 2011, when the Cruze was the nation's best-selling compact car, General Motors Co. said Tuesday.
The automaker said it shipped 18,983 Cruzes to dealers in June compared to 24,896 a year ago, a month that saw Japanese rivals struggle to recover from a March tsunami that stifled production.
The Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla bounced back in June, finishing seventh and eighth, respectively, with sales of 27,500 and 26,647, more than 40 percent over the year-ago month.
Year-to-date Cruze sales increased to 113,884 versus 122,972 for the same period in 2011.
GM overall reported its best sales month since September 2008 at 248,750 vehicles, helped by a 32 percent rise in Chevrolet Malibu sales coupled with a nearly $300 gain in average vehicle sale price.
Don Johnson, GM's new vice president of Chevrolet sales and service, noted how well the Cruze, Sonic and Malibu are working together in the small- to mid-size car segment, posting an 18 percent gain from last year.
"There can be some shift in the showroom floor between vehicles, but when you look at the overall car portfolio, we're very pleased with the performance," he told analysts and reporters in a conference call.
Johnson said he didn't think falling gas prices hurt sales of the fuel-efficient Cruze.
Kurt McNeil, newly named vice president of U.S. sales, pointed out the Cruze still has the highest average sale price in the segment, with GM incentives about $500 under the average in a "very competitive segment."
Lordstown was GM's second-highest production plant in June, building 25,064 Cruzes. The Fairfax plant built 25,859 Chevrolet Malibus and Buick LaCrosses.
GM built 70,774 cars overall in June, as some plants transition into the 2013 model year. Lordstown is idled for its annual two-week shutdown the first two weeks of July before kicking into 2013 production when workers return.
Sales overall surged in June, easing concerns that Americans would be turned off by slower hiring and other scary headlines.
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 U.S. since 1973.
The results allayed fears that growth would stall after a strong start to 2012. Earlier this 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.
Low interest rates are making deals like the Buick Verano more attractive. 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.
Pickup truck sales also improved as home building perked up. Chrysler's Ram pickup sales rose 12 percent and sales of the Ford F-Series - which has long been the country's best-selling vehicle - rose 11 percent.
At Chrysler, sales of the tiny Fiat 500 and Chrysler 300 large sedan more than doubled from a year earlier, helping the company to a 20-percent gain for the month.
Stronger GM and Ford sales was welcomed news to investors, who have beaten down shares in recent days over losses in Europe. Ford's stock climbed 2 percent to close at $9.60, while GM's stock jumped 6 percent to $20.67.