US auto sales total 18.17M in Sept; highest since July 2005

US auto sales power up to decade-high in September

Monthly U.S. auto sales came in at their best in more than a decade as cheap gasoline and ultra-low interest rates drove demand for sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks, according to Autodata.

The U.S. auto industry powered ahead in September to 18.17 million in total sales, logging its best run rate July 2005.

The big three U.S. automakers—General Motors, Ford Motor, and the U.S. operations of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles—reported a jump in September sales on Thursday.

Strong demand for new cars and light trucks in the United States has been giving automakers a boost at a time when sales in China and other markets are slowing.

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Sales also got a boost from the calendar, with the entire Labor Day weekend falling in September for the first time since 2012.

GM, the largest U.S. automaker, said its total sales in September rose 12 percent to 251,310 vehicles compared with the same month last year.

Labor Day drives strong auto sales

"The U.S. is adding jobs, disposable income is rising, energy prices and interest rates remain low and business continues to invest, but the fact remains this has been a slow recovery," said Mustafa Mohatarem, GM's chief economist.

"The economy still has room to grow and so do auto sales, particularly now that the millennials are entering the workforce and starting households," he added.

Ford's total sales rose 23 percent to 221,599. Ford-brand SUV sales increased 27 percent, the best in 12 years, while trucks sales increased 23.2 percent.

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Fiat Chrysler's sales increased 14 percent to 193,019, boosted by the continued strength of its Jeep SUV brand. Jeep sales jumped 40 percent.

"On the back of a strong sales industry we were able to achieve our best September sales in 15 years and our 66th-consecutive month of year-over-year sales growth," said Reid Bigland, head of the company's U.S. sales.

While low gas prices seem likely to continue to help sales of SUVs and pickups such as the Chevrolet Silverado and Ford F-150, the days of near-zero interest rates look set to end as the Federal Reserve considers raising rates for the first time since 2006. Strong auto sales could help hasten that decision. has forecast a rise in sales for all major automakers except Germany's Volkswagen AG, which reports sales later in the day.

The world's biggest carmaker by sales faces up to $18 billion in penalties to go along with a severely dented reputation after admitted to U.S. regulators that it programmed its cars to cheat on emission tests.