Chrysler Group LLC, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. said U.S. sales in August rose more than analysts estimated as new models such as the Dodge Dart and Ford Escape sent the market to its fastest sales pace since the government's "cash for clunkers" program.
Chrysler deliveries last month increased 14 percent from a year earlier, the Auburn Hills, Mich.-based company said in a statement. Ford sales rose 13 percent, and GM's climbed 10 percent. Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. deliveries surged 60 percent and 46 percent to also beat estimates.
The stronger-than-expected results from the five biggest sellers of cars and light trucks in the U.S. reflect continuing strength in the one sector of the economy that has held up as the recovery stumbles. The industry's rebound has spurred hiring at automobile assembly plants.
"This is an affirmation that the automotive market is strong," Alan Baum, principal of auto-industry forecaster Baum & Associates in West Bloomfield, Mich., said.
The U.S. automakers topped 10 analysts' average estimates of 9.9 percent for Chrysler, 8.5 percent for Ford and 3 percent for GM. Honda and Toyota exceeded seven analysts' average estimate for gains of 59 percent and 40 percent.
U.S. light-vehicle sales accelerated to a 14.5 million seasonally adjusted annualized rate, according to researcher Autodata Corp. That's the market's best sales pace since 14.6 million in August 2009, when the U.S. government offered incentives for buyers to exchange older vehicles for new models.
Chrysler, the automaker controlled by Fiat SpA, said deliveries of the Dart almost quadrupled from a month earlier to 3,045, helping extend its streak of U.S. sales gains to 29 months. CEO Sergio Marchionne is counting on a steady climb in demand for Dart, introduced in June, as Chrysler continues to update its lineup.
"We expect Chrysler to continue to gobble up incremental share in the compact-car segment," Alec Gutierrez, an analyst at Irvine, Calif.-based auto-market researcher Kelley Blue Book, said. "Chrysler is still trying to get enough selection of variety out to their dealers to satisfy demand. Their product portfolio has improved."
Nissan Motor Co. sales rose 7.6 percent, according to a statement. The Yokohama, Japan-based automaker said deliveries of the Altima, which is being updated for the 2013 model year, gained 12 percent to 25,889.
The Volkswagen brand sold 41,011 vehicles last month, a 63 percent increase from a year earlier, according to a statement. VW brand sales, the best August since 1973, were fueled by sales of the new Passat sedan, which rose to 10,090 last month compared with 314 a year earlier, the Wolfsburg, Germany-based company said in a statement. Combined VW and Audi sales totaled 375,142 vehicles through August.
Ford, which just introduced a new Escape small sport-utility vehicle, said sales of the model rose 37 percent to 28,188. Deliveries of F-Series pickups climbed 19 percent to 58,201, model line's best monthly total this year, according to a statement.
"There's nothing in our lineup that I have to apologize for," said Beau Boeckmann, vice president of Galpin Motors in Van Nuys, Calif. The dealership, Ford's largest in the U.S., had a 20 percent sales gain on the strength of new models.
U.S. auto sales are on pace to exceed 14 million for the industry's best total since 2007 and gain by at least 10 percent for the third-straight year. That's the first such streak since 1973.
Passenger-car deliveries climbed 28 percent to 650,576, topping the 13 percent gain in light-truck sales to 634,626, according to Autodata.