Editor's note: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect figure for the Volkswagen brand's September sales increase.
U.S. auto sales, led by Toyota, Kia, American Honda and Volkswagen, rose 13 percent last month as the annualized pace of sales accelerated to 14.9 million -- the highest rate since March 2008.
The overall results topped analysts' expectations and signaled the auto industry is poised to continue overcoming mixed economic reports to finish the year on a strong note.
Passenger car demand drove industry results last month, with sales of sedans, coupes and wagons up 23 percent. Consumers continued to opt for fuel-efficient models amid high gasoline prices. Light truck volume edged up 4 percent.
Sales have climbed 15 percent to 10.9 million through September and remain on track to top 14 million for the year, automakers and analysts say.
"The auto industry had another very encouraging month in September," said Bill Fay, Toyota group vice president and general manager.
September marked the fourth consecutive month and seventh month this year the SAAR has topped 14 million. August's SAAR of 14.5 million marked the best showing since August 2009, when the U.S. government offered incentives for buyers to swap older vehicles for new models.
Low interest rates, easing credit markets, selective use of incentives, new and redesigned models, and pent-up demand are fueling the industry's sales gains.
At Toyota, combined sales at the Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands jumped 42 percent. It was the fourth time in five months deliveries rose 40 percent or more as the automaker continues to rebound from last year's earthquake in Japan.
The Toyota division posted a 41 percent increase, helped by passenger car sales, while Scion demand rose 76 percent and Lexus deliveries advanced 36 percent.
Sales were strong all month beginning with the Labor Day holiday, Toyota said.
Toyota said shoppers are responding to low financing options and said it planned to continue offering a wide range of zero percent and low-interest rate loans in October.
Camry leases will once again be available at less than $200 a month in most parts of the country, Toyota added.
At Honda, sales jumped 31 percent, with the Honda brand up 29 percent and Acura posting a 44 percent increase. Demand for the Honda Civic and Accord soared 57 percent, Honda said, while deliveries of the CR-V advanced 14 percent.
Firing on all cylinders
It was the fifth straight month that Honda's U.S. sales gain topped 30 percent.
"Honda is once again firing on all cylinders as we enter fall," John Mendel, American Honda executive vice president of sales, said in a statement.
Volkswagen reported sales at the VW brand climbed 34 percent and boasted it expects to continue to outperform the industry during the fourth quarter. Audi said volume rose 27 percent and said it remains on track to set an annual sales record in the United States for 2012. Overall sales for the VW group were up 32 percent.
At Kia, sales rose 35 percent to 48,105, keeping it on pace for an annual sales record this year as well. Hyundai brand sales rose 15 percent to 60,025, marking its biggest gain since February.
Chrysler Group posted a 12 percent rise, helped by a 27 percent increase in car deliveries and a 51 percent gain at Fiat.
It was the company's 30th consecutive monthly gain in U.S. sales, but the smallest advance since volume rose 10 percent in May 2011.
Deliveries at General Motors, Ford Motor and Nissan Motor Co. were mostly flat in September.