U.S. auto sales -- led by Honda Motor Co., the Volkswagen Group and Toyota Motor Corp. -- jumped 20 percent last month for the strongest monthly pace in three years.
The Detroit 3 also posted double-digit sales gains for August, signaling the auto industry's recovery remains solidly on track despite sluggish economic growth, rising gasoline prices and widespread consumer uncertainty.
The seasonally adjusted sales rate for August accelerated to 14.53 million from 14.1 million in July and 12.5 million a year earlier. The results topped most analysts' forecasts and marked the highest SAAR since the U.S.-sponsored cash-for-clunkers program in August 2009.
U.S. new car and light-truck sales have advanced 15 percent to 9.7 million this year through August and remain a bright spot amid mixed economic signals and lackluster job growth.
"The auto industry continued to outperform the general economy in August," Bill Fay, Toyota group vice president and general manager, said in a statement. The company posted a 46 percent sales increase last month as it continued its recovery from an earthquake-hampered 2011.
Honda Motor Co. reported a 60 percent increase from a year earlier, when it also suffered from quake-related inventory shortages. Volume at the Honda brand jumped 58 percent to 115,675 units; Acura deliveries climbed 73 percent to 15,646 units.
Among major brands, VW led the way with a 63 percent jump, its 12th straight month of gains of at least 25 percent. Including Audi, up 13 percent, and other luxury brands, VW Group sales jumped 48 percent.
Pent-up demand, consumer discounts, new models, fleet deliveries, and more favorable credit are aiding light-vehicle sales.
In some cases, automakers are also offering aggressive incentive programs that reward dealers for selling more cars and light trucks.
Chrysler sales chief Reid Bigland attributed his company's 14 percent increase in part to an "incredibly resilient" climate for auto sales.