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August auto sales: Expect strong numbers

Tuesday, 3 Sep 2013 | 4:50 PM ET
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

August is the kind of month automakers and auto dealers love.

Demand is growing and supply is relatively limited, so dealers have had pricing power, and last month there was one extra sales day compared with August 2012—meaning that this August had five weekends versus four last year.

That combination is why many expect the raw sales numbers reported by automakers to be exceptionally high compared with a year ago.

Don't be fooled. What really matters for the industry and for dealers is the SAAR, or monthly sales rate.

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Auto dealers report shortages
What's hot and what's not in autos right now? CNBC's Phil LeBeau reports on the shortages of specific auto models. Automakers aim for 60 days to 70 days' supply, but the Subaru Impreza Wagon, as well as the Mercedes G Class, both have just 15 days.

Most on Wall Street are expecting the August SAAR to come in at 15.7 million or 15.8 million vehicles. Remember, that's the pace of sales, not how many vehicles were actually sold.

This September has two fewer sales day than September 2012. That will mean raw sales that appear relatively low, but the real question will be the SAAR for September.

If sales stay on the same pace as they have for most of this summer, September will have a SAAR of close to 16 million vehicles.

(Read more: Honda Odyssey sets new safety standard)

Ultimately, many on Wall Street will combine August and September, look at the combined sales rate and then compare it against the SAAR from earlier this year.

Any way you measure it, auto sales remain very strong and that's not expected to change.

—By CNBC's Phil LeBeau. Follow him on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.

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  • Phil LeBeau is a CNBC auto and airline industry reporter based in the Chicago bureau and editor of the Behind the Wheel section on CNBC.com.

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