UPDATED: 6/3/14 6:25 pm ET - adds more details
Sometimes the stars align.
The weather held, the calendar added both an extra selling day and a fifth weekend, lenders relaxed a bit, factories sweetened the pot. And May U.S. auto sales jumped 11 percent to 1.6 million units.
How good was May? The seasonally adjusted annual selling rate climbed to 16.8 million, the highest monthly number since July 2006. The seven largest automakers all boosted sales, four of them by double-digits.
Big May performances even turned the year (to date, that is) around for American Honda, the Hyundai brand and General Motors’ big pickups. All three were underwater through four months before May surpluses turned their numbers positive.
American Honda is plus 1,750 units through five months, thanks to a 12,590-unit gain in May. The Hyundai brand picked up 2,549 units in May, now 1,024 ahead for the year. With May plus 5,630 units, GM pickups are up 4,553 year to date.
“May was just one of those months where everything came together with five weekends, an early Memorial Day and an extra selling day,” said Bill Fay, Toyota brand chief.
Big wins, wins, small win -- and VW: For the largest auto groups, May was a layer cake.
Nissan North America led the top tier with an airy 19 percent gain, followed by Chrysler Group and Toyota Motor Sales with increases of 17 percent and General Motors, 13 percent higher.
Just below that were American Honda and Hyundai-Kia, both with 9 percent sales increases.
Ford Motor Co. sales rose 3 percent.
The soggy bottom layer was Volkswagen Group of America with a 3 percent loss in May, dragged down by a 15 percent decline for Volkswagen division that offset double-digit gains by sibling brands Audi, Porsche and Bentley.
Smaller brands mostly prosper: Most specialty brands and smaller players also did well in May. Mitsubishi had the largest percentage gain, up 54 percent to 7,269 units. Three others outperformed the market: Mazda rose 23 percent, Jaguar Land Rover gained 17 percent and BMW Group was up 13 percent.
Subaru matched the market’s 11 percent increase. Daimler was up 8 percent as a 16 percent loss at Smart failed to offset Mercedes-Benz’s 9 percent gain. Tesla was down an estimated 6 percent in May.
BMW grabs luxury lead: BMW recaptured the lead as the best-selling U.S. luxury brand through May after trailing reigning champion Mercedes-Benz the first four months of the year.
As usual, the 2014 race remains tight, with BMW ahead by about 2,000: 127,181 to 125,118.
In May, BMW brand sales jumped 17 percent to 29,602 units. Excluding the Sprinter commercial van, Mercedes sold 26,617 light vehicles in May, a gain of 8 percent.
Mercedes narrowly won the race in 2013. BMW won in 2012 and 2011, ending Lexus’ 11 year run on top.
Big pickups cool off: Full-size pickups didn’t match the exuberant 11 percent overall market in May, with sales rising just 5 percent.
For the first five months, the workhorses are up 6 percent to 805,371 units, slightly better than 5 percent gain for overall U.S. sales.
Chrysler’s big Ram pickup led the segment with a 17 percent gain in May.
The Ford F-series remained the country’s best-selling model with 68,520 units, but that was 4 percent below last May.
GM’s new-generation twin pickups gained 9 percent for the month and now are ahead 2 percent through five months. While the GMC Sierra is up 10 percent this year, the Chevy Silverado named the North American Truck of the Year in January is selling 1 percent below the first five months last year.
The Toyota Tundra was up 15 percent to 11,391 units in May, but the Nissan Titan fell another 17 percent to just 1,166 units.