DETROIT (Reuters) – Auto sales continued to show a slow but steady recovery in August, as all three Detroit automakers and Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) reported gains that outstripped analyst expectations.
General Motors Co (GM.N) posted a 10 percent jump, as higher gasoline prices spurred sales of compact cars including GM’s Cruze. Average U.S. gasoline prices rose 21 cents a gallon in the past month.
“Higher gas prices in August will lead to unseasonably strong small car performance across the industry,” said Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell.
With roughly 70 percent of the market reporting so far on Tuesday, the U.S. auto industry was on track to show an annual sales rate of 14.5 million vehicles, J.P. Morgan said.
Analysts polled by Reuters forecast an annualized sales rate of 14.2 million light vehicles.
GM predicted an annual sales rate of about 14.6 million for August.
So far this year, the U.S. auto sales rate has been 14.3 million on an annualized basis, GM and Ford said. Those figures do not include medium and heavy trucks.
Automakers are banking on a rebound in U.S. auto sales in the second half of the year after sales dipped in the spring. The industry has been helped by pent-up demand as consumers seek to replace aging cars and trucks.
GM’s sales gain of 10 percent last month surpassed expectations from five analysts of a gain between 2 and 6.4 percent.
GM is No. 1 in the U.S. auto market by sales, followed by Ford, Toyota and Chrysler.
Toyota’s August sales of 188,520 represented a 46 percent gain over last August, when its sales were greatly pressured by a lack of inventory caused by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Honda Motor Co’s (7267.T) sales rose 59.5 percent to 131,321 vehicles, led by an 89 percent rise in sales of its top model, Accord.
Beau Boeckmann, vice president of Galpin Ford in Southern California, said sales at his dealership are up in part because consumers are finding it easier to obtain credit. Galpin is the largest Ford dealership in the world as measured in sales volume.
“There’s been an overall opening up of credit to consumers,” Boeckmann told Reuters on Tuesday. “A couple of years ago when you were talking with the banks, they tried to find a way to not buy the deal. There’s been a big attitude shift.”
GM said sales rose to 240,520 vehicles. Ford’s U.S. August sales rose 13 percent to 197,249 vehicles, and Chrysler Group LLC posted a 14 percent rise in August.
Chrysler sales were 148,472 vehicles, which the company said showed its best performance for August since 2007. Chrysler is managed and majority-owned by Italy’s Fiat SpA (FIA.MI).
GM shares were down 0.8 percent at $21.17 on Tuesday afternoon, while Ford shares were up 0.6 percent at $9.40. The broad SP 500 Index .INX was down 0.4 percent.
VOLKSWAGEN, HYUNDAI, NISSAN
Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) turned in its best August U.S. sales performance since 1973, said Carsten Krebs, head of communications for Volkswagen Group of America. The carmaker’s sales rose 62.5 percent to 41,011 vehicles last month.
Overall, Volkswagen’s U.S. sales rose 48 percent, including sales of luxury brands Audi and Porsche. Audi’s sales rose 13 percent to 11,527 vehicles.
Hyundai Motor Co’s (005380.KS) U.S. sales rose only 4 percent in August, to 61,099 vehicles, as the South Korean automaker was limited by constraints on its supply.
John Krafcik, chief executive of Hyundai Motor America, said via Twitter that the company will add a third shift to its Alabama plant in September which “will help us better meet demand.”
Limited supply of Nissan Motor Co’s (7201.T) top-selling car, the Altima midsize sedan, helped cut in to that automaker’s monthly sales, which rose only 7.6 percent – less than analysts had expected.
Sales of the redesigned Altima began in July, and August sales were up 12.5 percent from a year ago. Still, “several thousand” Altima sales were lost due to lack of inventory by some U.S. dealers, said head of the Nissan brand in North America, Al Castignetti.
RISING GASOLINE PRICES
Rising gasoline prices were a factor in consumers’ choice of vehicles in August, said Ken Czubay, Ford vice president of U.S. marketing.
“As fuel prices rose again during August, we saw growing numbers of people gravitate toward our fuel-efficient vehicles,” said Czubay.
Still, sales of its Fiesta small car fell 28 percent in August. Meanwhile, Focus compact car sales rose 31.5 percent.
Ford reported record sales for the Escape crossover and Fusion sedan, and said the F-Series pickup had its best sales month all year. Ford brand sales were up 13.1 percent, while Lincoln brand sales rose 1.7 percent.
Chrysler said sales of its Dodge Dart compact sedan was 3,045 in August, as it rolled out the new car to more U.S. dealerships.
U.S. auto industry sales should be 14.6 million new vehicles on a seasonally adjusted annualized rate, including medium and heavy-duty trucks, Chrysler said.
Taking out the medium and heavy trucks, that would be about 14.3 million light cars and trucks, compared with 14.1 million projected in July.
Economists polled by Thomson Reuters last week expected an August annualized sales rate of 14.2 million light vehicles, compared with 12.1 million vehicles on an annualized rate last August.
Analysts regard light vehicle sales as a key measure of the industry’s health.
(Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Matthew Lewis)