US car sales figures for July are the best this year, despite continued weakness at the big three manufacturers – General Motors, Ford Motor Company and the Chrysler Group unit of DaimlerChrysler.

A total of 1.513 million cars and light trucks were bought last month. This represents an annualised sales rate of 17.3m – the highest monthly figure so far in 2003 and much better than the annualised pace of 16.1m set across the first six months of the year.

However, compared with the exceptionally strong sales of July 2002, last month’s total was down 4.5%.

Detroit’s dominant trio of automakers continue to take some of the biggest hits, despite the massive sales incentives all three are offering. General Motors was down 5.7% year-on-year; Ford tumbled 12%; and Chrysler slipped 7.6%.

In contrast, there were rises at Asian car threesome Nissan (+5.9%), Toyota (+4.5%) and Honda (+9.7%). European manufacturer Volkswagen, meanwhile, suffered the biggest decline, down 18% year-on-year.

According to Autodata, the Detroit trio’s combined market share is now 60%, down from 62% in July last year. Their European rivals marginally increased their total slice from 6.7% to 6.9%, but most of the big three’s lost share was taken by Asian firms, which now account for 33% of car sales. Such shifts are significant – each percentage point marks around 165,000 units and over $3 billion (€2.7bn; £1.9bn) in revenue.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff