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U.S. June auto sales hit level not seen since July 2006

By Bernie Woodall and Paul Lienert

DETROIT (Reuters) - U.S. auto sales hit levels in June not seen since before the financial crisis that led to the bankruptcy of two American automakers, posting the best annualized figures in eight years.

U.S. June sales rose 1.2 percent, beating expectations of a decline of 3 percent, and the seasonally adjusted annualized sales rate hit 16.98 million vehicles, the highest since the July 2006, industry consultant Autodata Corp said.

General Motors Co bucked Wall Street's low expectations as well as negative publicity over a flood of safety recalls, reporting a 1 percent rise in U.S. sales in June. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected GM's sales to fall about 6 percent.

John Krafcik, president of car shopping site TrueCar.com, said consumers are suffering from recall "fatigue" and tuning out the onslaught of bad news from GM and other automakers.

He added that GM's sales remain strong in part because consumers focus on brand names such as Chevrolet and Buick rather than the corporate name "General Motors."

Investors also showed faith in GM on Tuesday, sending its shares up 3 percent a day after the automaker's total for recalls in the half-year rose to 29 million vehicles.

Chrysler Group, Toyota Motor Corp, Nissan Motor Co Ltd and Hyundai Motor Co also reported year-to-year increases. They all topped analysts' expectations, as did Ford Motor Co. Honda Motor Co Ltd sales barely missed expectations.

"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.

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 rose 3 percent to 201,714 and Nissan was up 5 percent at 109,643.

Combined Hyundai-Kia sales increased 2 percent to 118,051 vehicles.

Honda sales declined 6 percent to 129,023.

U.S. June sales of the Volkswagen AG group, which includes Audi and Porsche, dropped 8 percent to 49,796.

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

Despite substantial discounts, demand for Ford's full-size F-series pickups - the best-selling vehicles in the industry - declined 11 percent to 60,560. The automaker is changing over to a brand-new version of the F-series for the 2015 model year.

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, including Fiesta, Taurus, Mustang and Edge.

At GM, key sedans Chevrolet Cruze, Impala and Malibu all had weaker sales.

(Additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit. Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Matthew Lewis and Andre Grenon)

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