The year's strongest performances by Honda and Volkswagen helped lift U.S. auto sales to their fastest pace in three years last month.
American Honda sales soared 60 percent and Toyota Motor Sales' volume jumped 46 percent for the month as the Japanese automakers continued to bounce back from severe quake-related product shortages last summer. The Detroit 3 and Hyundai-Kia posted double-digit gains, while Nissan North America was up 8 percent.
U.S. sales rose 20 percent to 1.28 million light vehicles in August. That produced a seasonally adjusted annual selling rate of 14.5 million, fractionally the highest SAAR this year and the best pace since August 2009's 14.6 million. That's when the U.S. cash-for-clunkers program rescued an industry from its free-fall.
"We have seen a lot of 'need' purchases this year but we just had the best retail market in a year and a half, so we'll hopefully see a few more 'want' buyers," said Bill Fay, Toyota Division general manager.
Kurt McNeil, General Motors vice president of sales operations, said July employment growth and signs of recovery in the housing industry "helped overall sentiment" in August.
"Autos have been a bright spot for the economy all year long, and we see that trend continuing," McNeil told reporters.
-- Outside the Big 7 automakers, Volkswagen Group of America also was a clear winner, boosting August sales 48 percent. The German automaker has now advanced 24 percent or more every month this year.
The lion's share of the growth came from selling 10,090 Tennessee-built Passat this year, compared with 314 imported Passats a year earlier. But it wasn't all Passat. Porsche sales, now counted as part of VW's total, rose 39 percent. Audi was up 13 percent.
-- Full-size pickups are heating up as the U.S. housing industry starts to recover – sales in the segment were 16 percent higher in August. Hottest: Toyota Tundra, up 68 percent, and Ford F series and Ram were both 19 percent higher. Sales of the Nissan Titan dropped 19 percent. GM's Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra duo rose just 5 percent, pending new-generation replacements early next year. GM sales boss McNeil says "we're still bullish" on pickup sales.
-- Four out of five vehicles sold in August were built in North America. With Japanese, European and Korean automakers sourcing more vehicles and vehicle content from North American to combat currency exchange rate woes, 79.9 percent of August sales were built in the United States, Canada and Mexico. That's up from 78.2 percent last August and brings the 2012 year-to-date level to an even 79 percent.
-- The sales contest between the plug-in electric-hybrid Chevrolet Volt and pure-electric Nissan Leaf is turning into a runaway GM victory. In August, GM sold 2,831 Volts and Nissan sold 685 Leafs. Last August, it was 1,362 Leafs and 302 Volts.
-- Honda's 60 percent gain followed increases of just under 50 percent in each of the three preceding months. Toyota's August climb topped its 26 percent July advance but trailed a 60 percent June gain and an 87 percent surge in May.
-- Cars were hotter than light trucks in August. Passenger car sales rose 27 percent to 655,862 units. Trucks gained 13 percent to 629,430 units.
-- The Chevrolet Silverado full-size pickup outsold the Toyota Camry in August by 1,575 units, restoring its spot as the second-best-selling vehicle behind the Ford F series. But for the first eight months, the Camry is outselling Silverado, 280,536 to 261,775.
-- The Chevrolet Cruze was the hottest compact car in August, outselling the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla/Matrix and Ford Focus. But through eight months, the lead goes to Civic.
-- Kia Motors America said August was its 24th consecutive monthly sales record with 50,028 units, a year-over-year gain of 22 percent.
-- Chrysler’s 14 percent growth in August was the automaker’s 29th consecutive monthly gain.