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UPDATE 3-U.S. auto sales in June keep up strong recent pace

(Adds Toyota sales, executive comments, detail on specific market segments)

DETROIT, July 1 (Reuters) - Major automakers reported better-than-expected U.S. sales in June, capping a strong second-quarter comeback from a brutal winter, but some companies displayed signs of softening demand for their most popular models.

General Motors Co bucked Wall Street's low expectations and negative publicity over a flood of safety recalls, reporting a modest rise in U.S. sales in June.

Chrysler Group, Toyota Motor Corp and Nissan Motor Co also reported year-to-year increases on Tuesday. They all topped analysts' expectations, as did Ford Motor Co.

Ford said on Tuesday that U.S. industry auto sales were unchanged from a year ago, which is better than the 3 percent decline analysts had expected.

"Sales in the first half of 2014 indicate a steadily recovering industry, and we expect this pace to increase as we move into the second part of the year," said Bill Fay, Toyota Division group vice president and general manager.

GM delivered 267,461 new cars in June, up 1 percent from a year earlier. Analysts had expected 247,767.

In the first six months, the top U.S. automaker has issued 54 safety recalls totaling a record 29 million vehicles. GM has linked at least 16 deaths to several of the problems leading to the recalls.

Ford sales fell 5 percent to 222,064 vehicles, but the company still beat the analysts' forecast of 217,007.

Chrysler had a 9 percent gain to 171,086, Toyota climbed 3 percent to 201,714 and Nissan was up 5 percent at 109,643.

A poll of analysts by Thomson Reuters shows U.S. sales expectations of 16.4 million vehicles for the month on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis. GM on Tuesday said the industry's annual selling rate in June was an estimated 16.6 million.

While automakers continue to subsidize sales with heavy discounts on a variety of models, the industry has seen average transaction prices hit a record $29,630 in the first half, according to research firm J.D. Power. Consumer spending on new vehicles in the first half also reached a record $194 billion, the firm said.

Incentive spending by automakers was heavy in June, averaging $2,897 per vehicle, according to J.D. Power data. Ford was the leader, with average per-vehicle discounts of $3,699, followed by GM at $3,640.

Ford sales analyst Erich Merkle said the average transaction prices industrywide for pickup trucks were up $3,300 from a year ago. Pickup trucks are critical for the three domestic automakers because of their high profit margins.

Despite substantial discounts, Ford saw demand for its full-size F-series pickups - the best-selling vehicles in the industry - decline 11 percent to 60,560. The automaker has begun changing over production to a brand-new version of the F-series for model year 2015.

GM's Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups sold a combined 58,925 in June, up a fraction from a year ago, while Chrysler's Ram pickup was up 12 percent to 33,149.

Ford said sales of some of its more popular U.S. models slumped in June: Fiesta, down 31 percent; Taurus, down 30 percent; Mustang, down 17 percent, and Edge, down 29 percent.

At GM, the Chevrolet Cruze was down 21 percent, Impala down 17 percent and Malibu down 24 percent.

The Chrysler 200 sedan, which was just redesigned, was down 41 percent, while the 300 sedan was down 17 percent.

Shares of GM were up 2.3 percent at $37.15 on Tuesday morning while Ford shares were down 0.5 percent at $17.16.

(Additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Matthew Lewis)

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