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Honda, Toyota and Nissan led the way as major automakers posted double-digit increases in U.S. auto sales last month, aided by rising demand from individual customers and continued robust deliveries of fuel-efficient cars and large pickups.
Honda Motor Co. sales rose 27 percent, Toyota Motor Corp. volume jumped 23 percent and Nissan Motor Co. advanced 22 percent from a year earlier. General Motors rose 15 percent, while Chrysler Group and Ford Motor each gained 12 percent.
GM said the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate for the month could reach 16.3 million, which would be the highest mark since before the recession began in late 2007.
"We have a lot of momentum and we feel good about the direction of the U.S. economy," Kurt McNeil, head of U.S. sales operations for GM, said in a statement.
GM's chief economist, Mustafa Mohatarem, said he now expects total U.S. industry sales to be as high as 16 million this year.
He said sales will "definitely" be higher than GM's prior forecast of 15.5 million, though the company has not formally revised that number. Mohatarem also said he does not expect the SAAR to fall below 16 million for the rest of this year.
"I think it's here to stay," he said on a conference call today with analysts and reporters.
GM's retail sales -- those to individual customers -- increased 22 percent while fleet shipments dropped 8 percent.
Sales advanced 38 percent at Cadillac, 37 percent at Buick, 14 percent at GMC and 10 percent at Chevrolet.
At Ford, car and truck volume rose 18 percent, offsetting a decline in crossover deliveries. Ford's small car deliveries climbed 30 percent and F-series pickup sales rose 22 percent to 71,115 units.
Sales rose 13 percent at the Ford division and 1 percent at Lincoln.
Ford said its retail sales were also especially strong last month, advancing 20 percent. Retail deliveries of cars were up 15 percent, utilities up 16 percent and trucks up 30 percent.
The company said today it planned to boost fourth quarter North American output 7 percent to 785,000 light vehicles.
For the second month in a row, Ford was outsold by Toyota.
Toyota Motor, helped by strong retail volume, reported a 23 percent increase in U.S. sales for August.
Honda said three of its four core models -- CR-V, Accord and Civic -- each posted sales in excess of 34,000 units, helping American Honda set an August sales record of 166,432 units.
Nissan said it also set an August record with 120,498 sales. Volume at the Nissan brand rose 24 percent to a record 108,614; at Infiniti, deliveries advanced 7 percent to 11,884 units.
Retail sales at the Nissan brand also set a monthly record with more than 100,000 deliveries.
Robust retail volume and demand for cars and large pickups also propelled Chrysler as it posted its 41st consecutive monthly gain.
The Ram brand, with sales up 29 percent, and Dodge, with a 12 percent increase, led the gains.
Overall, Chrysler's truck sales rose 12 percent last month, with Ram pickup demand surging 31 percent to 33,009 and Jeep volume rising 8 percent.
Chrysler said its car sales rose 11 percent, helped by the Dodge Charger and Dart, and record monthly sales of nearly 4,200 at the Fiat brand.
"Last month we achieved our strongest retail sales in the past 60 months," Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales for Chrysler Group, said in a statement. "All aspects of our business continue to improve."
The average transaction price of a Chrysler Group vehicle sold in August was a record $30,317, reflecting strong retail sales of the Ram pickup and Jeep lineup, TrueCar estimated today.
Among other automakers, sales rose 24 percent at Mitsubishi and 22 percent at Audi, while volume slipped 2 percent at the Volkswagen brand.
Jaguar Land Rover said August sales surged 40 percent to 6,661, with Jaguar volume rising 67 percent and Land Rover deliveries advancing 32 percent. August marked the best retail sales month ever for Land Rover and Jaguar's best retail month since 2005, the company said.
Other automakers are scheduled to report August sales later today.
Dealers and automakers say sales were strong over the Labor Day holiday weekend, which this year covered the end of August. The strong holiday sales were spurred by deals on remaining 2013 models and a few 2014 models.
"August was good," said Louie Richards, sales manager at Suburban Ford of Waterford, Mich. "The pull-ahead specials that we were offering really helped to get people in."
Analysts project that August sales rose 14 percent from a year earlier to 1.47 million units, based on the average of 10 estimates compiled by Bloomberg.
The seasonally adjusted annual sales rate is forecast at 15.8 million, based on the average of 17 analysts' estimates. That would match July's SAAR and be up from 14.5 million a year earlier.
Chrysler Group today estimated the August SAAR at 16.1 million, but its figure includes medium and heavy-duty trucks.
August sales results are expected to keep the U.S. auto industry on pace to post its highest annual volume in six years. The SAAR has topped 15 million units each month beginning with November 2012.
Brandon Debarros, general sales manager at Metro Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram in Johnston, R.I., described the month as "excellent."
"We have been pushing a zero-financing Labor Day sale to try to liquidate the stock that we have, and it seems to have worked," Debarros said.
No sales tax deals
At East Tennessee Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep in Crossville, Tenn., Sales Manager Brandon Letner said corporate sales helped offset a drop in retail volume.
"The no sales tax weekend that we had really helped us to get some sales that we wouldn't have had," Letner said, referring to a promotion whereby the dealer paid state sales taxes on new-vehicle purchases.
U.S. light-vehicle sales continue to be driven by pent-up demand as consumers replace aging vehicles. Attractive finance and leasing offers, the steadily improving economy, rising housing and construction activity, and modest employment growth are also aiding demand.
"Historically low interest rates as well as very attractive lease specials fueled by high resale values are enabling consumers to buy more expensive vehicles while still keeping payments at affordable levels," said Jesse Toprak, senior analyst for TrueCar. "It's a good day at the office for the manufacturers when the sales continue to grow double digits while transaction prices reach record highs."
TrueCar estimated the average transaction price of a new light-vehicle sold in August was a record $31,252, eclipsing the average transaction price of $31,228 set in December 2012.
Large pickup, compact crossover, and compact car sales are projected to set the pace in August, Kelley Blue Book estimates.
Ford's U.S. retail sales jumped 20 percent in August, with truck deliveries to individual customers advancing 30 percent. And F-series sales topped 70,000 units for the second month this year.
Photo credit: BLOOMBERG
The steady rise in sales this year has left some automakers and dealers short of certain models, and curbed sales volume at some automakers.
Hyundai's August sales advanced 8 percent to 66,101 despite limited supplies of high-volume models such as the Elantra compact, Hyundai Motor America CEO John Krafcik said via Twitter.
Inventory shortages came to a head in August, traditionally a strong sales month driven by end-of-model-year clearance sales.
In a survey by RBC Capital Markets, 19 percent of dealers said inventory was too low during the month of August. That compares with 9 percent in July and 4 percent in June.
Sales of the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Impala, Honda Odyssey and CR-V, Range Rover, Dodge Charger, Jeep Wrangler, and Ford Explorer have been limited by especially tight supplies in certain regions of the country, dealers and automakers say.
Brands that started August with the lowest stockpile of new models were Subaru, Land Rover, Audi, Hyundai, Lexus, Kia, and BMW, according to the Automotive News Data Center. Brands with the largest supply of new vehicles were Lincoln, Fiat, Cadillac, Buick and Ram.
Even with tight supplies, Subaru reported record monthly sales of 41,061, a gain of 45 percent, helped by new and redesigned models such as the Forester and XV Crosstrek.
"We're certainly expecting a terrific August, just like we had in July," Tom Doll, president of Subaru of America, told Bloomberg Television on Tuesday. "My guess is we're going to be somewhere north of 40,000, which for us is a big month."
Bill Cyphers, senior vice president of sales for Subaru of America, said more than half of the company's U.S. sales this year have come from consumers new to the brand.
Editor's notes: An earlier headline on this story had an incorrect figure for Chrysler's August sales increase. An earlier version of this story also misstated Infiniti's U.S. sales performance last month.
Nick Bunkley, Sean Gagnier and Reuters contributed to this report.