Volkswagen continued its staggering growth. Sales jumped 63 percent on strong demand for the Jetta and Passat sedans.
For pickups, a better housing market appeared to be the driver: Builders are getting more permits to start home construction and they have been breaking more ground on projects.
Chrysler sold more than 25,000 Rams, aided by discounts. Ford said its F-Series sales rose to 58,201, while the Chevy Silverado trailed at 38,295.
Chrysler also reported a big spike in minivans, with sales of the Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country each rising more than 30 percent. Chrysler's 300 luxury sedan posted a 65 percent increase.
At Ford, sales rebounded from a poor July, driven by the new Escape and Explorer crossover SUVs. The redesigned Escape bounced back from a safety recall last month to increase 37 percent. Explorer large SUV sales were up 33 percent. Ford also said it would raise production in the fourth quarter by 7 percent to meet increased demand.
GM also recovered from a bad July, with all four of its brands reporting increases. Chevy sales were up 11 percent, led by the Cruze compact. The Sonic subcompact, which had barely reached showrooms in August of last year, saw sales jump to more than 8,700. It likely will be the top-selling subcompact in the nation again in August.
GM also said it was helped by heavy advertising on the Olympics and a full month of a money-back guarantee program for Chevrolets.
Industry analysts say U.S. auto sales are likely to keep the economy going even as it struggles to grow. The economy expanded at a tepid 1.7 percent annual rate from April through June. On Friday, Chairman Ben Bernanke made clear that the Federal Reserve will do more to boost the economy because of high unemployment and a recovery that remains "far from satisfactory."