By Ben Klayman and Deepa Seetharaman
DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler Group LLC all reported disappointing U.S. auto sales in July, hurt by low inventory of some popular car models, including Ford's Fusion midsize sedan.
Looking at the results, RBC Capital Markets analyst Joe Spak said the annual sales rate for July would be around 15.4 million vehicles, below analysts' average forecast of 15.8 million.
All three major U.S. automakers reported strong truck sales amid a boom in the housing and oil industries. But car sales fell short of estimates.
(For a U.S. auto sales graphic, click on http://link.reuters.com/was58s)
During a conference call, Ford's U.S. sales analyst, Erich Merkle, said low supply of the Fusion and other models "muted" the company's sales increase during the month. Ford also said supply of the Focus compact car grew tighter in July.
GM sold 234,071 cars and trucks in July, up 16 percent from a year ago. Analysts, on average, expected the largest U.S. automaker to post sales of 243,134. GM forecast the industry's annual sales rate in July would be around 15.7 million.
Ford, the No. 2 U.S. automaker, said its U.S. sales last month totaled 193,715 vehicles, up 11 percent from a year ago. Analysts had expected 200,000. Chrysler, a unit of Italy's Fiat SpA, sold 140,102 vehicles in July. Analysts had expected, on average, 146,275.
Ford's miss stemmed from slower sales of two key models that the company revamped last year. Fusion sales fell 12 percent in July, while sales of the Escape crossover were up just 3.6 percent, compared with a sales increase of 20.3 percent for the Escape in the January-July period.
Focus sales were up 1.9 percent in July. Ford Explorer sales were up 12.6 percent, compared with a jump of 24.1 percent over the first seven months of the year.
"We're working really, really hard to expand the capacity as needed," said Ken Czubay, Ford's vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service. He also said the company is working to boost production of the Explorer and Focus.
Industry sales in July were led by surging demand for full-size pickup trucks. July was expected to be the second-best sales month of the year, after June's annual sales rate of 16 million.
Strong demand for pickups is particularly good news for U.S. automakers, which dominate that sector and reap large profits from those vehicles. Chrysler launched a new version of its Ram pickup last fall, while GM started selling its redesigned Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks in June.
Chrysler's Ram truck sales gained 31 percent in July. Sales of the Ford F-Series trucks were up 22.6 percent. GM said its full-size pickup truck sales were up 44 percent, the best since July 2007.
Nissan Motor Co said its U.S. sales in July rose 10.9 percent to 109,041 vehicles, below the 111,115 expected by five analyst polled by Reuters. Volkswagen said its July U.S. auto sales fell 3.3 percent.
(Reporting by Paul Lienert and Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by John Wallace)