US auto sales rate highest in a decade: Report

Hot August auto sales

The U.S. auto industry powered ahead in August to hit 17.81 million in total sales, marking the highest run rate since July 2005 according to Autodata, as consumers continued to show their penchant for pickup trucks and SUVs.

The six largest automakers in the U.S. market all beat the sales forecasts of industry analysts, with Toyota, Honda, Nissan and GM reporting declines that were not as severe as expected.

Consumers surprised industry analysts who had expected a decline in August sales. Results on Tuesday bested the forecast of 17.3 million vehicles in a Thomson Reuters poll of 47 economists.

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A Fiat Chrysler Jeep Grand Cherokee is seen at a dealership.
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Roller-coaster stock markets appeared to have no major impact on auto purchases, which each month are an early indicator of consumer spending.

"All of the economic fundamentals that we look at, including job growth, disposable income and fuel prices, are in good shape and that should keep sales strong," said Kurt McNeil, head of U.S. sales for General Motors.

Bill Fay, head of Toyota brand sales in the U.S. market, pointed out that U.S. consumer confidence in August was at its highest since January.

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GM, the No. 1 automaker in the U.S. market, reported that sales dropped 0.7 percent.

Ford, the No. 2 U.S. automaker by vehicle sales, showed a gain of 5 percent, easily outdistancing expectations.

Toyota, No. 3 in U.S. sales, reported an 8.8 percent decline in August.

Fiat Chrysler showed a rise of 2 percent, boosted by Jeep SUVs. Analysts had been looking for a decline in FCA sales.

Honda reported a drop of 7 percent and Nissan a 1 percent dip.

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August industry sales were expected to be down largely based on a quirk in the calendar that put results over the U.S. Labor Day holiday weekend into September sales.

Although Labor Day is always in September, the U.S. auto industry usually counts the sales in August results.

Ford said sales of its F-Series pickup trucks topped 70,000 for the first time this year - at 71,332, up 4.7 percent.

Mark LeNeve, head of Ford's U.S. sales, said results were strongest for its newest models. Ford SUV and truck sales both rose about 12 percent while car sedan sales fell 7 percent.

GM's Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks together outsold Ford's F-Series, at more than 76,000. Silverado sales rose 11.7 percent and Sierra sales were up 7 percent.