Memorial Day auto sales start summer off strong

Memorial Day, traditionally one of the busiest days of the year for buying cars, for the most part lived up to dealers' lofty expectations this weekend, as low-financing offers and other incentives helped lure buyers into showrooms.

Online marketplace TrueCar said holiday weekend sales on its website and those of its partners were up as much as 7 percent compared to last year. And while thunderstorms dampened traffic at showrooms in some Midwest markets and in Texas, dealers characterized business in other parts of the country as strong.

"Monday was huge for us," said an executive with one of the publicly traded auto dealership groups. "The storms in the middle of the country slowed sales a bit, but overall this was a very good Memorial Day for us."

Read MoreMemorial Day deals expected to lure car buyers

As has been the case for much of the year, pickup truck sales were brisk during the holiday weekend. Part of that demand is being fueled by the new Ford F-Series pickup, which hit showrooms in limited numbers late last year. The company now has two plants building the vehicle at full capacity so there is a greater supply of the trucks rolling into dealerships.

A customer looks at a Ford F-150 pickup truck at a CarMax dealership in Brandywine, Md.
Hasan Sarbakhshian | Getty Images
A customer looks at a Ford F-150 pickup truck at a CarMax dealership in Brandywine, Md.

Dealers also said sales of Jeep vehicles—in particular, the Renegade—were robust. The brand's sales are up 21.8 percent year to date, according to Autodata.

On the flip side, sales of sedans and compact vehicles, which have lagged their larger counterparts this year, remained lackluster.

Read MoreDo not disturb! A new way to stop distracted driving

Last week, the auto consulting firm J.D. Power estimated the sales pace for May will wind up being 17.3 million new vehicles, which would mark the second month this year that metric has topped 17 million. That puts the auto industry on pace to surpass last year's sales of 16.4 million new vehicles in the U.S.

"The summer car-buying season has started with a bang," TrueCar President John Krafcik said.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.