American consumers are shrugging at the sight of pump prices nearing $3 a gallon for the first time in years and plowing ahead with purchases of big pickups and SUVs.
Ford Motor Co. eked out a surprise gain in May U.S. sales last month, buoyed by the best May for its cash-cow F-Series truck line in 18 years. A 29 percent surge for the Jeep sport utility vehicle brand carried Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV to a bigger-than-expected gain. Japan’s three biggest carmakers also beat analysts’ estimates on the strength of Nissan Rogue, Honda CR-V and Toyota Highlander crossovers.
With the U.S. unemployment rate matching the lowest in 48 years and consumer confidence on the rise, gasoline probably will have to get more expensive to have any meaningful impact in buying patterns. The light truck segment — which includes pickups, SUVs and crossovers — has been seizing record share of the U.S. auto market, prompting Ford and Fiat Chrysler to abandon many of their passenger cars.
With five of the biggest automakers in the U.S. beating estimates, the annualized pace of vehicle sales likely beat analysts’ average projection of 16.7 million cars and light trucks. The rate has topped 17 million every month this year, according to researcher Autodata Corp.