Some of the country’s biggest automakers on Wednesday reported big sales increases for the second quarter, the strongest sign yet that the auto industry was bouncing back from parts shortages and overcoming the effects of higher interest rates.
General Motors, the largest U.S. automaker, said it sold 691,978 vehicles from April to June, up 19 percent from the same period a year earlier. It was the company’s highest quarterly total in more than two years.
Automakers have struggled in the last two years with a shortage of computer chips that forced factory shutdowns and left dealers with few vehicles to sell. More recently, rising interest rates have made auto loans more expensive, causing some consumers to defer purchases or opt for used vehicles.
“I’m not saying we are on the cusp of exciting growth here,” said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at Cox Automotive, a research firm. “But we are now at a turning point where the auto market returns to more balance. It’s the beginning of returning to normal.”
The easing of chip shortages has allowed automakers to restock dealer lots, making it easier for car buyers to find the models and features they want, Mr. Smoke said. At the end of June, dealers had about 1.8 million vehicles in stock, nearly 800,000 more than at the same point in 2022, according to Cox data.
Sales have also been helped by strong job creation and rising wages, he said.
At the same time, however, higher interest rates and higher car prices have put new-car purchases out of reach of many consumers. In the first half of the year, the average price paid for a new vehicle was a near-record $48,564. The average interest rate paid on car loans in the first six months of 2023 was 7.09 percent, up from 4.86 percent in the same period last year, according to Cox. The average monthly payment in the first half was $784, up from $691.
“Demand will be limited by the level of prices and rates, which are not likely to come down enough to stimulate more demand than the market can bear,” Mr. Smoke said.
Cox estimated total new vehicles sales rose 11.6 percent in the first half of the year, to 7.65 million cars and trucks. The firm now expects full-year sales to top 15 million vehicles, which would be a rise of 8 percent.
Several automakers reported solid quarterly sales on Wednesday. Toyota said its second quarter that U.S. sales rose 7 percent, to 568,962 cars and light trucks. Stellantis, the company that owns Jeep, Ram, Chrysler and other brands, reported a 6 percent rise, to 434,648 vehicles.
Honda, which had been severely hampered by chip shortages, said its sales rose 45 percent to 347,025 cars and trucks. Hyundai and Kia, the South Korean automakers, each sold more than 210,000 vehicles, posting gains of 14 percent and 15 percent.
Electric vehicles remain the fastest-growing segment of the auto industry. Rivian, a maker of electric pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles, said on Monday that it delivered 12,640 vehicles in the second quarter, a 59 percent jump from the same period in 2022. And on Sunday, Tesla reported an 83 percent jump in global sales in the second quarter.
Cox estimated more than 500,000 electric vehicles were sold in the United States in the first six months of the year, and that more than one million will be sold in 2023, setting a record for battery-powered cars and trucks in the country.
Tesla, which does not break out its sales by country, remains the largest seller of EVs in the U.S. market. Cox estimated the company sold more than 161,000 electric cars in the second quarter in the United States. Ford Motor, which offers three fully electric models., reports its quarterly sales numbers on Thursday.
G.M. sold more 15,300 battery-powered cars and trucks, but most of the total — nearly 14,000 — came from the Chevrolet Bolt, a smaller vehicle that the company will stop making at the end of the year. The company also sold 1,348 Cadillac Lyriq electric sport-utility vehicles and 47 GMC Hummer pickup trucks. Chevrolet will soon start delivering a new electric Silverado pickup truck, which use the same battery technology as the Lyriq and Hummer.