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US July auto sales top expectations, boosted by SUVs, trucks

U.S. auto sales were stronger than expected in July and kept the industry on a pace for its best year in a decade, driven by the continuing shift toward sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

Analyst had expected a gain of about 3 percent over year-ago sales but the first four major automakers reporting on Monday easily surpassed estimates.

Ford Motor reported a 5 percent jump in sales, well above the 2 percent gain expected by analysts, on the strength of its F-Series pickup trucks.

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Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sales rose 6 percent and Nissan Motor gained 8 percent, also outstripped expectations of analysts.

Each month, auto sales are seen as an early indicator of consumer spending.

Car-buying website TrueCar said a record $47 billion was spent on new-vehicle purchases in July, up 2.l percent from a year earlier.

Ford truck sales rose 5.7 percent, its utility vehicle sales jumped 13.4 percent while sedan sales fell 3.9 percent.

Ford's F-Series sales, of which the F-150 pickup truck accounts for the lion's share, showed an increase of 4.8 percent. The F-Series total of 66,288 was more than all sedan sales of 66,004.

Sales of Ford's SUV Explorer soared 27 percent, and its smaller SUV Escape had a 10 percent increase.

Ford shares rose 1 percent to $14.98.

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For Fiat Chrysler, trucks and utility vehicles accounted for 74 percent of sales and were 10.4 percent higher than a year earlier, while sedan sales fell 6 percent.

FCA sales were led by a 23 percent increase for Jeep SUVs. Jeep Wrangler was the brand's biggest seller at 19,320, up 18 percent. The Jeep total was helped by sales of 6,320 Renegade compact SUVs, which was not on the market a year ago.

It was the 64th straight month that FCA sales increased on a year-over-year basis. Fiat Chrysler shares rose nearly 3 percent to $16.25 in New York trading.

At Nissan, truck and utility vehicle sales rose 23 percent while car sales fell 1 percent. Sales of its Rogue small SUV jumped 51 percent.

Hyundai Motor said U.S. July sales rose 6 percent to a company record 71,013 vehicles.