U.S. light vehicle sales ended the best first half in history with record June sales, marking 21 of the last 22 months in which deliveries outdid the same year-ago period.

There was no letup in large sport/utility vehicle (SUV) sales despite higher gas prices, but large pickups did decline for a second consecutive month - the first time that's happened since February 1998. Market share for cars increased to 52.1% in June compared to like-1999's 51.9%, the first time since January that car share was above the same year-ago month.

The seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) was 17.0 million, the same as the prior month and slightly better than year-ago's 16.9 million. Sales during the first six months of 2000 hit all-time highs in volume (9.099 million) and in the annual pace (17.7 million). Furthermore, sales volumes over the second half of this year would have to fall by 7% from second-half 1999 for 2000 to fall short of last year's all-time record of 16.9 million. Analysts at sister publication Ward's Automotive Reports say that if sales track along typical month-to-month patterns for the remainder of 2000, the final year-end tally should range between 17.2 million and 17.4 million.

Sales for the first half were 7% ahead of last year's pace, with nearly every company running ahead of 1999 levels. The exception was DaimlerChrysler AG, which recorded a 2.0% decline, despite a small increase at its high-volume Dodge Div. and a 10.9% rise in sales of its Mercedes-Benz products.

June was inauspicious for the Big Three, as each posted a sales decline, and combined market share fell to 68.9% from like-1999's 73.1%. The Big Three's first-half 2000 share stood at 69.4% vs. year-ago's 72.4%. Sales for the Big Three combined increased 2.5% in the first six months, while sales for Honda-Nissan-Toyota rose by a sound 15.0%. The remainder of the industry, led by the South Korean makes, Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America Inc. and Volkswagen/Audi of America Inc., increased combined sales by a whopping 25.9% (see chart, p.24). Market share for those smaller-volume companies increased to 11.3% from 9.6% in first-half 1999.

Overall sales of SUVs increased by 6.7% in June from year-ago and year-to-date sales were up even higher at 12.9%. Sales of large-luxury SUVs in June were up a resounding 11.6% and the middle-luxury segment increased an impressive 8.6%.