'Pickup Truck Indicator' Says Economy Improving

It's no secret that the major auto companies knocked it out of the park with their May sales. But dig a little deeper into the numbers, and you can find some even better signs of strength for certain areas of the economy.

The auto companies don't break down their results beyond the total sales numbers. They combine fleet sales along with retail sales, so it's hard to get a read on how the US is really doing.

But AutoNation, the country's largest vehicle sales company, is now giving us some insight.

Starting today, AutoNation will begin releasing its own monthly sales figures, and will provide more detail than the big auto companies.

For May, AutoNation's sales were up 22 percent, matching what we saw from some of the big automakers, including Ford , General Motors and Toyota.

But get this: Pickup truck sales were up 50 percent year-over-year. That's a huge sign of strength for American small businesses, according to AutoNation Chairman and CEO Mike Jackson. (Watch Jackson's comments here).

"Pickup trucks are bought by small business entrepreneurs who have their finger on the pulse of the US economy," Jackson told us this morning on Squawk Box. "It's an expression of confidence in future of economy. They don't buy until they see the prospects for business are brighter."

And these sales are the real deal: It's worth noting that there's no impact from government stimulus "Cash-for-Clunkers" money.

Plus, it's not just small business demand that is surging. Some of the hardest hit areas of the country are also seeing outsized gains in sales. Auto sales in Florida, for instance, jumped 38 percent, while those is California climbed 24 percent.

These numbers offer some important clues as to where the economy is heading. Last year, U.S. auto sales totaled 10 million. AutoNation makes up a decent sized chunk of that. Last year it sold 325,000 new autos.

Jackson will join us every month on Squawk Box to release his numbers, so stay tuned for more information.