A year ago, May sales turned the U.S. industry upside down. Chrysler Group outsold Toyota to transform the Detroit 3 back into the Big 3. America's perennial best-selling car, the Toyota Camry, dropped to No. 8.
That all changed this May. Honda and Toyota shook off the crippling effects of last year's earthquake and posted gains of 87 percent and 48 percent, respectively. Most everyone else – including Ford Motor Co. and General Motors – advanced 10 percent or more. Only two companies, Mitsubishi and Volvo, fell.
The result: An industry that finished 26 percent above last year's depressed levels.
But by another measure, May was the weakest month. On a seasonally adjusted annual basis, sales fell to 13.8 million, coming in below 14 million for the first time since December.
Predictably, the tallies drew a variety of interpretations.
From dark: "Clearly, the sales numbers are not encouraging. But the stock market, housing, jobs and consumer confidence reports were all negative toward the end of the month," said TrueCar.com analyst Jesse Toprak. "Given all that, sales should have been worse."
To brighter: "You can't read too much into a single month" said Rebecca Lindland, director of strategic review at IHS Automotive. "We had a dip in May. It doesn't mean we're going to stay soft."
To even brighter: "In spite of a tremendous amount of global economic uncertainty, the U.S. vehicle sales industry continues to power ahead," said Reid Bigland, head of Chrysler's U.S. sales operations.
Here are some highlights:
The Big 8, in order: GM, up 11 percent; Ford, up 13 percent; Toyota, up 87 percent; Chrysler, up 30 percent; American Honda, up 48 percent; Nissan North America, up 21 percent; Hyundai-Kia, up 7 percent; Volkswagen of America, up 24 percent.
Zooming Camry: The Toyota Camry, up 110 percent in May, extended its lead as the industry's best-selling car. With 181,796 sales through May, it's now more than 46,000 ahead of No. 2 Nissan Altima.
Luxury losers: Aside from Mitsubishi (down 26 percent), all the decliners were luxury brands: Lincoln, Bentley, Cadillac, Jaguar and Volvo.
Small stars: While gasoline prices fell, Mercedes' Smart rose 43 percent and the Chrysler's Fiat 500 gained 128 percent.
Bumped brand: Toyota/Scion's May blitz pushed it past Chevrolet as the No. 2 U.S. best-selling brand, 181,510 to 177,943. For the first five months, Chevy clings to a narrow 1,364-unit lead.
Pickup progress: The industry's best-selling vehicle, Ford's F-series, advanced 29 percent; GM's full-size pickup sales rose 23 percent; and Chrysler's Ram pickup jumped 29 percent.
Streaks: Buick, up 19 percent, ended its seven-month skid. Cadillac extended its industry-leading decline to eight months. Chrysler Division, up 81 percent, has gained 50 percent or more for seven straight months. Toyota stretched its string of advances to seven months, following six straight monthly declines.