DETROIT - Ford reported a 12.2 percent increase in sales in the United States in August - the best month the automaker has seen since August 2006.
Car sales were up 15 percent, utilities up 16 percent and truck sales up 30 percent.
The Ford Fusion had its best-ever August sales with 24,653 vehicles sold. Strongest growth for Fusion continues to be in the western region of the country, with retail sales up 63 percent.
"Producing more Fusions at Flat Rock Assembly with its 1,400 new workers is a welcome opportunity, as Fusion showed great strength in August," said Ken Czubay, Ford vice president, U.S. marketing, sales and service. "Small cars and hybrids continue to outpace the market in the coastal regions of the U.S., with Ford brand retail small car sales growing at more than three times the rate of the U.S. small car industry."
Ford's overall small car sales – including Fiesta, Focus and C-MAX hybrids – were up 30 percent, with combined sales of 30,148 vehicles. C-MAX hybrids contributed 44 percent of Ford's small car growth in August. Fiesta sales increased 61 percent, for the best August Fiesta sales ever.
F-Series sales of 71,115 vehicles were up 22 percent, for the 25th consecutive monthly increase – and the second time this year sales have topped 70,000 vehicles. The last time F-Series had sales of more than 70,000 vehicles in two separate months in a calendar year was 2006.
Lincoln MKZ sales were up 10 percent to 3,652 vehicles, for a best-ever August sales month. MKZ has now reported record sales for four of the last five months.
Chrysler's U.S. sales rose 12 percent last month as strong truck sales pushed the company to its best August in six years.
The automaker sold nearly 166,000 cars and trucks last month. Sales of its best-selling Ram pickup rose 31 percent.
Chrysler predicts that total U.S. sales will run at an annual rate of 16.1 million, a pace last seen before the Great Recession. Industry analysts say August could be the best month since May of 2007, when $3 a gallon gasoline set off panic buying of fuel-thrifty vehicles.
All major automakers report sales numbers Wednesday.
Chrysler sold more than 33,000 Ram pickups, the model's best August since 2006. Jeep sales rose 8 percent for the brand's best August in 11 years. Grand Cherokee SUV sales were up 40 percent. All five of Chrysler's brands reported sales increases as the company recorded its 41st straight month of year-over-year sales gains.
Sales of truck-based vehicles were extremely strong for Chrysler, at more than 120,000. That's nearly three times the company's car sales and may indicate that Chrysler is once again becoming overly reliant on trucks for its profits. That led to problems four years ago when the company nearly ran out of cash and was forced into a government-funded bankruptcy.
LMC Automotive, an industry consulting firm, is predicting that total U.S. sales last month were close to 1.5 million, about 12 percent higher than a year ago and the highest monthly total in more than six years.
This time, small cars aren't the only big sellers. Analysts say people are buying everything from tiny Honda Fits to big pickup trucks as an improving economy keeps pushing auto sales higher.
Some consumers still find gas prices steep enough that they're buying small cars. These vehicles are also nicer than they were six years ago, far quieter and safer with more features, said Tom Libby, lead North American analyst for the Polk automotive research firm. In fact, compact and subcompact cars could challenge midsize cars as the largest segment in the U.S., according to analysts from Kelley Blue Book.
Still, gas prices aren't the catalyst they were back in 2007 and 2008. In fact, gas this August was the cheapest in three years, averaging $3.57 a gallon, compared with $3.62 in 2011 and $3.69 last year.
In May of 2007, automakers sold more than 1.56 million cars and trucks, due largely to a boom in small cars as the nationwide average for gas topped $3 a gallon for the first time. That helped the Japanese automakers. Sales of Toyota's Prius gas-electric hybrid, which then got 46 miles per gallon in city and highway driving, nearly tripled.
But last month, Toyota had to discount the Prius to boost sales. Toyota discounted the average Prius by $1,462, more than triple the incentives from a year ago, according to TrueCar.com, an auto pricing website.
"Consumers like stability," said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of sales forecasting for LMC. Now that they're used to higher gas prices, "it's less of a shock than in May of 2007," he said.
Buyers also are paying record prices for their cars and trucks, according to the TrueCar.com auto pricing web site. The average U.S. vehicle sold for an estimated $31,252 last month, up almost $1,000 over August of last year and $24 higher than the previous record in December of 2012. Five automakers, Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Nissan and Volkswagen, all had record-high selling prices last month, according to TrueCar.
The industry tracking firm Experian said earlier this week that nearly 28 percent of people who financed cars leased them, a record high. High trade-in values are allowing automakers to offer attractive low-cost lease deals.
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