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Ford's F-150 Is Driving More Sales Gains

Ford's F-150, shown here in Limited trim, led big sales gains for the Blue Oval last month. Photo credit: Ford Motor Co.

The financial markets may have had a turbulent month, but it's looking like U.S. auto sales continued their upward trend in June.

Analysts at and Kelley Blue Book have released their forecasts for the month, and both are seeing steady year-over-year increases in new-vehicle sales across the industry.

That's good news, as it suggests that the broader U.S. economy is still on an upswing. But what does it mean for the individual automakers? Let's take a closer look.

Ford appears to be pulling ahead...
(NYSE: F  ) has recently been at or near the front of the sales growth pack, for a few different reasons. First, its latest products – the Escape SUV and Fusion sedan – have proven to be strong contenders. Both are gaining market share in their respective segments against tough competition, primarily from the big Japanese brands.

Second, a couple of different economic factors have contributed to a sharp rise in full-sized pickup sales. Booms in new-home construction and oil-field services have led contractors in both industries to replace tired truck fleets. That's a market segment that Ford leads with its well-regarded F-Series pickups, and F-Series sales were up almost 31% last month.

Analysts Jesse Toprak at TrueCar and Alec Gutierrez at Kelley Blue Book both expect Ford to continue to gain ground on the overall market. Toprak sees Ford sales up 14.8% in June, versus a 7.8% gain for the overall market. And Gutierrez's estimate has Ford gaining 13.4% over year-ago totals, with the overall market up 10.1%.

Those sales gains come with a caveat, though: It does appear that Ford has boosted its incentives somewhat. Discounts on certain Ford pickups are up $500 versus late May, according to data collected by Automotive News, and Toprak's report estimates that Ford's average per-vehicle incentives are up almost 18% versus a year ago.

That may be a move driven by the impending arrival of General Motors' (NYSE: GM  ) all-new pickups, though Toprak estimates that Ford's overall incentives have fallen a bit since last month. That would be good news: A conservative approach to incentives is key to maintaining Ford's fat North American profit margins.

...while GM treads water for a bit longer
And what of General Motors? GM has been treading water to some extent for a couple of years now, awaiting a slew of all-new products that should greatly enhance its pricing power and ability to capture incremental sales from rivals.

Those products are finally starting to roll out: The all-new Chevy Impala is on sale, and has received strong reviews, and GM is already producing the new Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups, though they won't start arriving at dealers for several more weeks.

That won't help GM in June, though. Toprak sees GM's sales rising just 2.3% on the month, despite spending on incentives that he estimates is the highest in the business. Gutierrez is similarly pessimistic about GM's sales pace, calling for a 1.3% year-over-year increase.

Meanwhile, the competition isn't resting
Both analysts also see market-leading gains for Nissan (NASDAQOTH: NSANY  ) , which cut prices on seven key models at the beginning of last month and boosted its incentives spending in a bid to gain market share. Helped to some extent by a favorable exchange rate shift, Nissan's move paid off with outsized gains in May – and the company is expected to gain U.S. market share again in June.

That could mean a strong showing in the white-hot midsized sedan segment, where the longtime leaders – Toyota's (NYSE: TM  ) Camry and Honda's (NYSE: HMC  ) Accord are under increasing pressure from Nissan's all-new Altima as well as Ford's hot-selling Fusion. Both the Altima and the Fusion gained ground on the Camry last month, and those gains could continue in June.

Ford's growth in the U.S. has been strong, but it has been growing even faster in China. A recent Motley Fool report, "2 Automakers to Buy for a Surging Chinese Market", says that Ford is one of two global giants poised to reap big gains in China's booming auto market. You can read this report right now for free – just click here for instant access.

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