[NEW YORK] US auto sales rose at a solid pace in August, boosted by continued robust demand for sport utility vehicles and pickups amid low gasoline prices and an improving jobs market.
Lightweight vehicle sales totaled 1.58 million, increasing from July but down 0.5 per cent from a year ago, in part because the last month had one less selling day than August 2014, according to Autodata.
Seasonally adjusted, though, Autodata's estimated annual rate of sales surged to 17.8 million vehicles, topping analysts' estimates of 17.5 million.
It was the strongest sales pace since July 2005 and the highest for August since 2003.
"As one of the earliest and most reliable indicators of goods consumption, we take a positive signal from stronger-than-expected August vehicle sales," said Jesse Hurwitz, US economist at Barclays.
"Consumer sentiment has moderated a bit in recent months as financial market volatility and concerns over international growth have increased; however, these data indicate that consumption should hold up despite these factors," he said.
General Motors, the largest US automaker, said it sold 270,480 vehicles last month, a gain of 6.0 per cent from August 2014, after it adjusted for the fact that the Labour Day weekend, a factor in last year's August sales, only comes well into September this year.
For dealerships, Labour Day is a prime occasion for model year-end clearance sales.
Without that adjustment, GM sales were down 0.7 per cent.
"GM's retail sales increase far outpaced the industry in August, and we have grown our retail share for five months in a row compared to last year," said Kurt McNeil, GM's US vice-president of Sales Operations, in a statement.
"All of the economic fundamentals that we look at, including job growth, disposable income and fuel prices, are in good shape and that should keep sales strong," he said.
GM's biggest seller by far in August was the Silverado pickup truck, with 54,977 units sold, up 11.7 per cent year-on-year.
Luxury brand Cadillac sales fell 5.5 per cent and sales of Chevrolet, GM's premier brand in the US, fell 1.5 per cent.
Ford Motor, the number-two US automaker, said it had its best August in nine years with 234,237 vehicles sold, a 5.0 per cent increase.
Sales of F-Series pickup trucks jumped 5.0 per cent to 71,332 units, the best monthly result since 2006. Ford is stepping up production to meet robust demand for its new aluminum-bodied F-150 pickup, the company's most popular vehicle that accounts for almost half its earnings.
Italian automaker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles's US unit, FCA US, said it had its best August sales in the United States since 2002 at 201,672 vehicles, an increase of 2.0 per cent from a year ago, with the Jeep brand kicking in an 18 percent jump.
FOREIGN AUTOMAKERS SKID
Japanese auto giant Toyota reported US sales dropped 8.8 per cent to 224,381 units. Sales of signature gasoline-electric hybrid Prius dived 24.2 per cent as low gasoline prices at the pump continued to prime demand for bigger gas-guzzlers.
Toyota's mid-sized pickup Tacoma and Highlander SUVs had their strongest monthly increase since 2003. The luxury Lexus brand had its best month ever, up 2.1 per cent.
Honda's August sales fell 6.9 per cent to while Nissan reported an 0.8 per cent decline.
In total, Asian automakers saw their sales fall 3.3 per cent and their market share shrink to 46.6 per cent from 48.0 per cent.
German auto giant Volkswagen posted a 2.8 per cent decline, but Volkswagen Group's premium unit Audi had its second-best sales month in the US, gearing up a 9.9 per cent increase with 18,794 vehicles sold.