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US auto sales gain in June, boosted by small crossover SUVs; Nissan up 13 percent

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DETROIT — Americans again bought vehicles that sit up high and come loaded with features like backup cameras and smartphone capabilities in June. Horsepower was also in; gas-sipping not so much.

SUVs of all sizes continued to fly off dealer lots. Sales of the larger Ford Explorer rose 30 percent; Nissan's Rogue small SUV posted a 54 percent jump; and sales of the Jeep Cherokee gained 39 percent.

Total sales rose 3.9 percent over last June to 1.48 million, according to Autodata Corp. For the first half of the year, sales gained 4.4 percent to 8.5 million.

Buoyed by the momentum, the National Automobile Dealers Association this week raised its full-year sales forecast to 17.2 million vehicles from just under 17 million. The last time auto sales topped 17 million was in 2001.

Most automakers reported gains for June, led by Nissan with an increase of 13 percent. General Motors' sales fell, largely because the company cut back on sales to rental-car companies.

Consumers are finding a number of reasons to buy, including an improved job market, low interest rates, a robust stock market and low gas prices. Automakers are also helping themselves by introducing new vehicles faster and loading them up with desirable features. The average new vehicle cost an estimated $31,948 in June, according to the car-buying site TrueCar.com.

High-volume sales of SUVs priced in the low- to mid-$30,000 range are boosting transaction prices, said Larry Dominique, executive vice president, industry solutions, for TrueCar. Another factor: Luxury sales, averaging around $50,000, which Dominique said are "on fire."

Ford's Lincoln division notched a 14.5 percent gain, while sales for Nissan's Infiniti and Toyota's Lexus luxury units also rose by double digits.

Demand for SUVs is taking a bite out of car sales. Sales of the midsize Ford Fusion dropped 8 percent last month, while sales of Chevy's compact Cruze slipped 13 percent. Dealers offered promotions in June to clear some smaller cars off their lots. Kia, for example, was offering zero-percent financing for up to 66 months and up to $1,500 on Optima and Forte sedans.

The decline in car sales is partly due to lower gas prices. According to AAA, the average price for a gallon of gasoline in the U.S. Wednesday was $2.76, compared with $3.67 on July 1, 2014.

Muscle hasn't lost its appeal. Sales of the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger all rose. Ford sold 11,719 Mustangs, a 54 percent gain and the performance car's best June since 2007.

Among the major automakers reporting so far:

— Nissan's U.S. sales rose more than 13 percent in June. Besides the Rogue, sales of the midsize Altima rose 13 percent, bucking the trend in that segment.

— Fiat Chrysler posed an 8 percent gain, led by the Jeep brand, which posted a 25 percent sales increase.

— Ford sales rose 2 percent. Sales of the redesigned Edge crossover gained 30 percent.

— Sales at General Motors fell 3 percent. The largest U.S. automaker outsold Ford's F-series in pickup sales, 70,166 to 55,171.

— Toyota sales rose 4.1 percent. The Camry remains the best-selling car in the U.S., but sales of the midsize slipped 8 percent.

— Honda sales rose 4.2 percent. Sales of the CR-V, the best-selling crossover SUV in the U.S., gained 8.5 percent.

— Hyundai sales rose less than 1 percent. The Santa Fe crossover saw a gain of 17 percent, but sales of the Sonata midsize dropped 40 percent. Sister company Kia posted a gain of 6.9 percent, boosted by sales of the redesigned Sedona minivan.

— Volkswagen sales rose 5.6 percent, led by the Golf family of compact cars.

PHOTO: FILE - In this Dec. 2, 2014, file photo, Mike Johnson, a sales manager at a Honda car dealership, opens the hood of a Honda CRV SUV, in Tempe, Ariz. Automakers release vehicle sales for June 2015 on Wednesday, July 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 2, 2014, file photo, Mike Johnson, a sales manager at a Honda car dealership, opens the hood of a Honda CRV SUV, in Tempe, Ariz. Automakers release vehicle sales for June 2015 on Wednesday, July 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

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