Car Makers Report Big August Sales Growth

The Wall Street Journal

By Christina Rogers

Consumers flocked to dealer showrooms last month, throwing off higher gasoline prices and worries about the economy, as Chrysler Group LLC, General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. each reported double-digit sales gains in August from a year earlier.

The solid showing by the Detroit Three lifts hope August could be one of strongest sales months of the year, especially since many Japanese auto makers are expected to post big volume gains. A year ago sales of Japanese cars were depressed because of shortages stemming from the March 2011 earthquake that disrupted production.

General Motors’ U.S. auto sales rose 10%, Chrysler’s rose 14%, and Ford’s results improved 13%. Toyota Motor Corp.’s U.S. auto sales climbed 46% and Honda Motor Co. posted a 60% gain, both from year-ago weakness.

GM and Chrysler estimated the industry’s annualized sale pace was 14.6 million cars and light trucks. August new-car sales are expected to rise 20% from a year ago and 12% from July, car-shopping website said last week.

Buyers seeking to replace aging cars and trucks boosted auto sales last month as did an improving housing market, which contributes to higher pickup truck sales.

“Though we are seeing most of the economic conditions stabilizing and job market not improving as much as we hoped for, I think pent-up demand really is the driving force for retail sales,” said Jenny Lin, a senior economist for Ford.

“We believe that the recovery in the housing sector is continuing to support our full-size pickup truck sales,” she said. Sales of Ford’s F-Series pickups and Chrysler’s Ram trucks each climbed 19% while GM said its Chevrolet Silverado rose 4% from a year earlier.

Pickup truck sales made up 11.2% of the total market, up nearly a percentage point from earlier in the year, Ford said.

GM’s overall August sales rose 10% to 240,520 cars and light trucks, with the increase led by its Buick brand. Sales of Chevrolet vehicles, the company’s largest brand, were up 11% and total Buick sales improved 12%. Total Cadillac sales grew 11%. GMC sales improvement lagged, rising just 3.7%

Ford U.S. sales rose 13% to 196,749 in August. Sales of its Focus compact were up 35% to 19,053 vehicles, the company said.

Chrysler, majority owned by Italy’s Fiat SpA, said its sales rose 14% last month to 148,472 vehicles for its best August sales since 2007. Fiat posted the biggest increase with sales up 34%. Sales of its namesake Chrysler brand were up 25%, reflecting a 10% rise in Chrysler 200 sales and 65% growth for the Chrysler 300.

Honda, which like Toyota was hobbled a year ago by natural disasters, said it sold 131,321 vehicles, up 60% from year earlier sales on strong demand for its Civic and Accord cars.

Nissan Motor Co., which recovered fast from Asia’s natural disasters last year, said its U.S. sales rose 8% in August to 98,515 cars and light trucks, with its namesake brand up 6% and the Infiniti luxury brand rising 24%.

Hyundai Motor Co. said its U.S. sales climbed 4% last month to 61,099 cars. Its affiliate, Kia Motors Corp., reported U.S. sales climbed 21.5% over a year ago to 50,028.

Month-end dealer inventory in the U.S. stood at 687,354 units, up 3.6% from the prior month.

August had 27 sales days, while the year-ago month had 26.

Toyota has bounced back from the impact of last year’s Japanese earthquake and tsunami and reported monthly year-over-year sales gains since November. Last month, Toyota posted its highest quarterly profit in four years and lifted its full-year production forecast to an industry-record 10.05 million vehicles.

Toyota reported it sold 188,520 vehicles in the U.S. last month, up from 129,483 a year earlier and 14% above July’s total of 164,898.