DETROIT -- American consumers bought new cars and trucks at a brisk pace in August, and they're likely to continue doing so this month, defying the volatility in the stock market and concerns about the Chinese economy.
While falling stock prices may deter some buyers of higher-end luxury cars, analysts say, most shoppers should be emboldened by strong economic fundamentals and still-palpable pent-up demand to replace aging vehicles.
"There may be some impact from the stock market, but [September] is still going to be a very, very good month," said Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book.
He said he's highly confident that September's seasonally adjusted annualized selling rate will surpass the 17 million-vehicle mark, especially with a late-arriving Labor Day weekend set to "pump up the numbers."
In August, automakers sold 1,577,179 light vehicles. That's a slight drop -- just 0.6 percent -- from a year ago, when Labor Day arrived early and the holiday weekend's sales were included in August's total. The calendar quirk is reflected in the SAAR, which rose even though fewer vehicles were sold.
The August pace came in at 17.81 million vehicles, the highest since July 2005, when employee-pricing discounts caused a dramatic sales spike. The SAAR has now topped 17 million five out of eight months this year.
Among the sales gainers were Subaru, Fiat Chrysler, Ford and most luxury brands.
Mark LaNeve, Ford's vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, noted that his company experienced a strong final two weeks in August, even as stock market and China concerns were rising.
"Ironically, with all the volatility, it was very strong at the end of the month," he said in a conference call. Looking ahead, he added that the U.S. economy has a range of strengths -- jobs, interest rates, economic growth, consumer confidence are all pointing up -- that should more than offset whatever worry is generated by stock market ups and downs.
"I'm very, very bullish on the second half of the year," LaNeve said. "I don't see anything on the horizon that could be any kind of disruption in the business."
While the overall market trend is up, automakers face some crosswinds that can hurt or help their business, depending on how they are positioned. U.S. buyers are increasingly favoring crossovers and pickup trucks, and shifting away from cars. In August, light trucks made up 56 percent of sales, up from 52 percent a year earlier.
"If you're heavy in cars, you're fighting the market forces," Brauer said.
The key segments driving the shift are midsize pickups, with sales up 49 percent year to date, and subcompact crossovers, up 90 percent in the first eight months of 2015.
Those trends are helping GM, which fields the Buick Encore and Chevy Trax subcompact crossovers and the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon midsize pickups. GM can claim to sell more pickups than Ford, which leads in full-size models with the F series but lacks a small pickup truck since it discontinued the Ranger.
Working in the opposite direction are subcompact cars, down 10 percent; large cars, down 17 percent; and hybrids and other alternative-powertrain vehicles, down 16 percent through August. FCA is speeding ahead with Jeep sales, but the slower large-car segment is hurting Dodge.
Lower car sales also are complicating matters for Japanese automakers. Toyota entered the year with a redesigned Camry but is getting no lift from the car, amid a broader downtrend for midsize-car volume. Camry sales were down 4.8 percent in the first eight months of 2015. Sales of the other giant in the midsize segment, the Honda Accord, were down 15 percent year to date. In August, Toyota Motor Sales was down 8.8 percent, and American Honda, 6.9 percent.
David Phillips contributed to this report.