(Adds final sales figures, paragraph 6)
By Bernie Woodall and Ben Klayman
DETROIT, Sept 3 U.S. August auto sales were the
highest for that month in more than a decade, thanks in part to
heavy discounting by the manufacturers and a strong Labor Day
weekend close, with the industry selling at an annualized pace
not seen since early 2006.
All the major manufacturers except General Motors Co
reported year-to-year increases, handily topping analysts'
August sales rose 5.4 percent from a year ago to 1,583,476
vehicles, according to a Reuters analysis. It is the highest
total for the month since the industry sold 1.63 million in
GM held on to the top spot, while Toyota Motor Corp
edged Ford Motor Co for the second straight month.
The lowest gasoline prices in four years helped GM and
Chrysler Group, a unit of Fiat SpA, achieve
double-digit gains in sales of full-size pickups, which provide
the bulk of profit. But sales of Ford's industry-leading
F-Series pickups fell as the automaker began the changeover to
an all-new aluminum-bodied version.
The annualized sales rate for the month finished at 17.53
million vehicles, according to research firm Autodata. That was
well above the 16.6 million forecast from analysts polled by
Thomson Reuters and the highest rate since 17.6 million in
Auto sales are an early indicator of consumer demand as the
industry accounts for one-fifth of all U.S. retail spending.
GM sales fell 1.2 percent to 272,423 vehicles; analysts had
expected 272,734. Toyota was up 6.3 percent to 246,100, beating
the forecast of 225,973. Ford was up 0.4 percent to 222,174,
against the expectation of 216,991.
Chrysler showed a 20 percent gain, to 198,379, compared with
a forecast of 185,072, while Nissan Motor Co Ltd was up
11.5 percent to 134,388, versus an expectation of 123,855. Honda
Motor Co Ltd climbed 0.4 percent to 167,038, compared
with 152,191. Hyundai Group sales, including Kia,
rose 5.5 percent to 124,670, compared with a forecast of
Incentive spending by the industry last month climbed from a
year ago, to an average $2,772 per vehicle, but declined
slightly from July, according to research firm TrueCar.com.
Virtually all major automakers except Nissan boosted discounts
from a year ago.
Research firm Edmunds.com said August sales were helped by a
higher percentage of zero-interest dealer-financed loans.
Transaction prices in August averaged $32,495, driven by
strong sales of pickups and full-size SUVs, according to
research firm Kelley Blue Book.
Beau Boeckmann, president of Galpin Motors in Southern
California, said one surprise for dealers is "that SUVs have
really taken off again."
Larry Dominique, an executive at TrueCar, said the shift in
demand from sedans to SUVs and crossovers is forcing
manufacturers to hike discounts on sedans.
(Additional reporting and writing by Paul Lienert in Detroit;
editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Matthew Lewis)