The U.S. auto industry has been bracing for a downturn after hitting a record 17.55 million new vehicles sold in 2016. A glut of nearly new used vehicles poses competition for new vehicle sales and automakers have relied increasingly on high consumer discounts and loosened lending terms.
Major automakers on Monday posted better-than-expected U.S. new vehicle sales figures for June, led by the major Japanese automakers whose stronger figures offset drops at U.S. automakers.
Automakers' shares rose as early tallies of industry figures showed sales either flat or up marginally, compared with Wall Street expectations for a fourth straight month of declining sales.
Car shopping website Edmunds said on Monday the average length of a car loan reached an all-time high of 69.3 months in June.
"It's financially risky, leaving borrowers exposed to being upside down on their vehicles for a large chunk of their loans," said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds' executive director of industry analysis.
General Motors Co said its sales fell about 5 percent versus June 2016, but that the industry would see stronger sales in the second half of 2017 versus the first half.
"U.S. total sales are moderating due to an industry-wide pullback in daily rental sales, but key U.S. economic fundamentals clearly remain positive," said GM chief economist Mustafa Mohatarem. "Under the current economic conditions, we anticipate U.S. retail vehicle sales will remain strong for the foreseeable future."
Ford Motor Co said its sales for June were hit by lower fleet sales to rental agencies, businesses and government entities, which fell 13.9 percent, while sales to consumers were flat.
On a media call, Ford executives said an initial read of sales figures indicated automakers sold 1.52 million vehicles in June, which if confirmed would just top last year's figure of 1.51 million units.
Ford executives said it looked like sales hit a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of around 17 million new vehicles for the month, which would be better than 16.6 million units analysts had predicted.
GM shares were up 2.8 percent in late morning trading on Monday, while Ford shares rose 3.9 percent.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV said June sales decreased 7 percent versus the same month a year earlier.
Toyota Motor Corp said sales rose 2.1 percent versus June 2016 and said it saw strong gains in the RAV4, a light SUV, sales of which increased 24.7 percent. Sales of another SUV, the 4Runner, rose 16.6 percent.
But sales at Toyota's Lexus luxury car brand fell 5.4 percent on the year.
Nissan Motor Co Ltd said its U.S. sales increased 2 percent. But while truck, SUV and crossover sales jumped 19.5 percent, sedan sales dropped 12.1 percent.
In the past few years, Americans have increasingly shunned smaller passenger cars in favor of larger vehicles.
Honda Motor Co Ltd (7267.T) said sales for June were up 0.8 percent.
(Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)