Vroom! Vroom! Auto sales jump in August

2013 Ram 1500
Source: Chrysler
2013 Ram 1500

U.S. auto sales were on a pace to show a gain as high as 17 percent in August as the industry raced toward its strongest month since just before the start of the 2007-2009 recession.

Last month's sales will top 16 million vehicles on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis, several automakers said, which would be the first time U.S. sales topped that level since November 2007. It also marks stronger sales than expected, with nearly all automakers on Wednesday reporting double-digit sales gains for the month.

Ford and Chrysler reported 12 percent increases, while Toyota was up 23 percent.

Sales at General Motors increased 14.7 percent on big gains in full-size pickup trucks and tiny cars. GM said it sold almost 276,000 cars and trucks last month.

Ford likewise saw strong demand for the F-Series pickup, with sales up 22 percent to 71,115, as well as small cars. Its recently redesigned Fiesta subcompact saw sales jump 61 percent, while the C-Max hybrid was up 44 percent.

Sales for all four companies topped expectations.

A separate report from TrueCar estimated that the average transaction price for light vehicles in the U.S. hit a record high at $31,252 in August 2013, up 3.2 percent over August 2012 and up 0.5 percent from July 2013.

Consumers, driving vehicles that are on average more than 11 years old, are securing cheap financing to buy new cars and trucks, said Ken Czubay, Ford U.S. sales chief. He said automakers were aggressive in their Labor Day weekend marketing, which boosted sales for the last three days of August.

Chrysler predicted that the industry will continue on its hot streak as it heads into the fall selling season, when new models are introduced.

Chrysler said that it expects a seasonally adjusted sales rate for August of 16.1 million vehicles, including medium and heavy trucks.

(Read more: Expect strong August auto sales numbers)

GM said August auto sales were 16.3 million vehicles on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis. This would easily top the 15.8 million annualized sales rate forecast by 45 analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

Chrysler, a unit of Italy's Fiat SpA, said it sold 165,552 vehicles in August, which matched analysts' expectations. It was the 41st consecutive month that the company reported year-on-year U.S. sales gains.

"The auto industry continues to be a bright spot in the economic recovery," said Bill Fay, Toyota division group vice president and general manager.

Japan-based automaker Nissan also had a good sales month, showing a 22 percent increase.

Monthly auto sales are viewed as an early indicator of the U.S. economy's health. The industry has held up better than the broader economy due in part to consumers' need to replace aging vehicles.

By Wires with contributions from CNBC.com.