U.S. light-vehicle sales, led by double-digit increases at Chrysler Group and Nissan Motor Corp., rose 6 percent in August, helped by generous Labor Day holiday deals and higher demand for pickups, SUVs and crossovers.
The results easily eclipsed projections that industry sales volume would be flat in comparison to a particularly strong August 2013.
The seasonally-adjusted annualized rate of sales (SAAR) — a key barometer of the industry’s health — soared to 17.5 million, nearly 1 million units above the 16.6 million estimate from analysts tracked by Bloomberg.
The U.S. auto industry last saw a 17 million light-vehicle SAAR in July 2006 and a 17.5 million SAAR in January 2006.
The August results included Tuesday Sept. 2, providing 27 selling days in the month, or one fewer than August 2013. A year earlier, the SAAR came in at 16.1 million and the July SAAR hit 16.5 million – the fifth straight month above the 16 million mark.
Light truck demand rose 9 percent last month, fueling much of the industry’s gains, while car volume edged up 2 percent. In all, 1.59 million vehicles were sold, up from 1.50 million a year earlier.
Chrysler posted a 20 percent increase amid surging sales of the Ram pickup and Jeeps. Nissan advanced 12 percent, with a 15 percent increase for the namesake brand offsetting a 23 percent decline in Infiniti luxury models.
Toyota Motor Corp. had its sixth consecutive monthly gain, up 6 percent overall, on a 16 percent surge in light-truck volume. Deliveries slipped 1 percent at General Motors, its first dip since February, when its recall crisis began to erupt.
At Ford Motor Co., August deliveries were flat. The Volkswagen brand continued to slump, down 13 percent, but sibling Audi gained 22 percent.
Honda Motor Co.’s sales edged up 0.4 percent and the company said the Honda Accord set an all-time monthly sales record of 51,075, up 33 percent. It was the eighth-straight monthly gain for Accord, which outsold Toyota’s Camry to rank as the best-selling car in the nation during the month.
Overall, deliveries rose 2 percent at the Honda division but fell 9 percent at Acura.
Nissan and Chrysler had been expected to be the only major automakers to tally August increases.
Toyota Motor Sales edged Ford Motor for the second straight month, and the Toyota brand is now within striking distance of outselling Chevrolet as the nation’s second-best selling brand, behind No. 1 Ford. Chevrolet’s lead stands at just 2,264 units through August.
GM, which has been dogged by a record wave of recalls this year, said its retail sales fell 4 percent while fleet shipments rose 9 percent.GMC was the only GM brand to post a gain last month, with volume up 10 percent. Sales dropped 1 percent at Chevrolet, 10 percent at Buick and 18 percent at Cadillac.
Trucks proved a bright spot for GM, with volume up 18 percent. While the Volkswagen brand fell for a 17th straight month, the A3 helped propel sibling Audi to its highest monthly U.S. sales tally in company history: 17,101 vehicles.
At Chrysler, Jeep deliveries rose 49 percent and Ram brand sales climbed 39 percent on a 33 percent jump in Ram pickup volume. Ram pickup deliveries, aided by higher discounts, analysts say, totaled 43,775 for its best August since 2003.
At Ford, sales edged up 0.4 percent at the Ford division and fell 0.6 percent at Lincoln. Ford said it car sales rose 2 percent, utility deliveries increased 5 percent and truck demand slipped 5 percent.
Still, Ford had its best August sales in eight years, with the Fusion sedan and Escape crossover setting records for the month. F-Series pickup demand slipped 4 percent as Ford closed one of two plants that makes the truck last month to begin preparations for a new, aluminum-bodied model. Ford said it also trimmed discounts on its pickups by $650 in August for an average price of about $41,000.
U.S. sales rose 5 percent at Kia, 11 percent at Mazda, and 29 percent at Mitsubishi.
At Subaru, one of the hottest brands in the industry, volume rose 22 percent to 50,246 units on demand for the redesigned Legacy sedan and revamped Outback. It marked the 33rd straight month of gains for Subaru and the first time monthly sales topped 50,000.
Deliveries fell 31 percent at Jaguar, and a 9 percent decline for Land Rover ended the luxury SUV brand’s streak of 10 consecutive monthly gains. Volvo sales dropped for the fourth consecutive month.
In the race among luxury brands, Audi surpassed Cadillac last month to rank No. 4 year-to-date behind BMW, Mercedes and Lexus. BMW’s lead over Mercedes stood at 5,111 at the end of August.
It was Chrysler Group’s best August sales since 2002 and the 53rd consecutive month, starting with April 2010, that the company’s U.S. sales have grown year over year. Overall, Chrysler Group’s light truck volume rose 28 percent while car deliveries skidded 3 percent.
Chrysler and its dealers cited “tremendous Labor Day weekend sales” on top of a “very solid month” for the results.
Sales rose 4 percent at the Chrysler brand but slipped 6 percent at Dodge and 20 percent at Fiat. Chrysler blamed Fiat’s drop on a 500L recall in the U.S. and Canada. Chrysler said it temporarily halted sales of the 500L while it replaces the knee air bags in about 29,500 units.
Chrysler’s average U.S. incentives per vehicle sold last month were estimated at $3,167 by Edmunds.com and $3,476 by TrueCar.com, among the highest of all major automakers.
Automakers and dealers filled the airwaves with summer, clearance and Labor Day holiday promotions as August progressed.
About 13 percent of all dealer loans in the U.S. were financed at zero percent annual percentage rates in July and August. That’s up from 11 percent last summer, and the highest rate since December 2010, Edmunds said.
Edmunds.com says new-vehicle discounts averaged $2,387 last month, up about 2 percent over July but down slightly from August 2013. TrueCar estimated incentives averaged $2,772 per unit sold in August, up 9 percent from August 2013 but down 2 percent from July.
Incentive outlays were restrained in the first part of the year but have inched up in recent months. Analysts say much of the pent-up consumer demand that has driven industry volumes in recent years has been tapped, prompting automakers to sweeten some deals in search of incremental sales.