Sales go from hot to hotter in 'almost' perfect month

Mazda's U.S. sales jumped 11 percent last month, and have increased 10 percent year-to-date, outpacing the overall market's 5 percent gain through August. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

UPDATED: 9/3/14 6:09 pm ET - adds more highlights

Riding strong U.S. demand for crossovers and big pickups, automakers sold almost 1.6 million light vehicles in August, up 6 percent from a booming year-ago period.

In August 2013, auto sales jumped 17 percent.

“Last month was one of the best Augusts in many, many years,” said Toyota Division General Manager Bill Fay, who noted that enthusiasm was high at the brand’s annual dealer meeting last week.

“Dealers are very encouraged by the vibrancy and consistency of the automotive market,” Fay said. “We look for continued strength in the months ahead.”

Consumers flocked to dealerships over the long Labor Day weekend to take advantage of multiple 0 percent financing and low-payment leasing deals, said John Krafcik, president of TrueCar. That traffic drove sales well beyond analyst expectations of a selling rate in the mid-16 million range, he added.

The seasonally adjusted annualized selling rate hit 17.5 million, the highest SAAR since January 2006.

“There is real underlying strength in this market,” Krafcik said. “But this was also almost the perfect sales month, with five weekends and an early Labor Day included” in the August total.

Just last week, analysts had expected Chrysler Group and Nissan North America would be the only major automakers to even modestly improve from last year’s strong August.

Chrysler jumped 20 percent for the month, led by gains of 39 percent at Ram and 49 percent at Jeep.

Nissan sales rose 12 percent, with namesake Nissan brand up 15 percent, enough to offset a 23 percent decline for the Infiniti luxury brand.

But both Toyota Motor Sales and Hyundai-Kia matched the industry average with 6 percent increases.

And Ford Motor Co. and American Honda each eked out a fractional gain, Ford selling 969 more vehicles than a year ago and Honda up 606 units.

General Motors sales fell 1 percent for the month, with only its GMC brand posting a gain.

A 13 percent decline at the Volkswagen brand pulled the Volkswagen Group of America into familiar negative territory, off 2 percent for the month. That was despite gains of 37 percent for Porsche and 22 percent for Audi.

Other highlights:

Toyota tops Ford: For the second month, Toyota Motor Sales outsold Ford Motor in August, 246,100 to 221,373. But for the year to date, the Ford and Lincoln brands remain more than 70,000 units ahead of Toyota/Scion and Lexus: 1,698,197 to 1,627,509.

Toyota brand rises: In August, Toyota Division sales gained 7 percent to 207,105, pulling it past Chevrolet and to within 6,122 of Ford, the best-selling brand. But for the year to date, Chevrolet still holds the No. 2 spot by a thread, 1,388,993 to 1,386,729. Ford is comfortably ahead of both with 1.6 million sales through eight months.

BMW leads luxury race: At the two-thirds mark of the annual race to top U.S. luxury brand sales, it’s still a three-way battle. BMW leads with 211,005, about 5,000 units ahead of No. 2 Mercedes-Benz (excluding Sprinter commercial vans). Lexus is No. 3, 7,063 sales behind Mercedes.

The three are the only luxury brands to hold the U.S. sales title this century. Lexus was champ from 2000 to 2010, followed by BMW in 2011 and 2012. Mercedes finished on top in 2013 with 312,528 sales, edging BMW by3,248 units.

Audi leapfrogs Cadillac, Acura: In the next sales tier of luxury brands, August was boffo for Audi and ugly for Cadillac and Acura. After eight months, it’s Audi with 116,066 sales followed by Cadillac (114,008) and Acura (105,918).

For all of 2013, Cadillac was No. 4 with 182,543 sales, followed by Acura (165,436)  and Audi (158,061).

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