5 Hot Cars That Sizzled in August

DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- No question, the winners in August were the U.S. automakers. GM ( GM), Ford ( F) and Chrysler produced hot cars in every market segment.

GM sales rose 18%. Ford sales rose 11.1% and Chrysler sales rose 30.6%. Overall, U.S. industry sales rose 7.5%.

The biggest losers, again, were Toyota ( TM) and Honda ( HMC), which lost 12.7% and 24.3%, respectively. Both, however, expect to replenish their inventories in the months ahead. Nissan, by contrast, has already restocked and gained 19.2%.

By the way, did anybody notice that Hyundai sales gains have trended downward since April? The company's year-over-year sales gains were 40% in April, 21% in May, 16% in June, 10% in July and 9% in August.

The Detroit Three continued to benefit from the lack of competitors' inventory as well as from new products and more stable gas prices.

Perhaps the signature moment on Thursday, as sales figures were released, came on the GM conference call, when Don Johnson, vice president of U.S. sales, said that when Japanese competitors' inventories come back, Cruze will be a beneficiary.

"Cruze has been so successful right now," Johnson said. "We know we're getting buyers who are trading in competitive vehicles." Once Toyota and Honda loyalists begin shopping again, "brand loyalists to Japanese brands will have their minds open," he said. "We're going to get a shot at it."

So why not? On our list of the five hottest cars in August, we'll put Cruze at the top.

Chevrolet Cruze

Cruze sold 21,807 units in August, making it the fifth best-selling vehicle in the U.S. as well as the best-selling compact car -- for the fourth month in a row.

Cruze sales also exceeded 20,000 units for the fifth consecutive months. Year-to-date, it has sold 169,427 units. The sustained demand means that Chevrolet dealers have only about a 30-day supply, about half the industry average.

GM is going to further test its luck in small car segment, when the sub-compact Sonic begins to arrive at dealers this month.

Buick Regal

It is not just the Cruze that has done well for GM.

August marked the 23rd consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains for Buick, which remained among the fastest-growing major car brands, with a 12% increase.

Buick sales were led by the Regal, which showed a sales gain of 124% to 3,820 units in the best month since it was launched. Overall, Buick sales totaled 16,021 units. The best-selling Buick, the LaCrosse, gained 1.6% to 5,422 units.

Jeep Compass

Jeep continued to lead the Chrysler revival, which -- it must be said -- was totally unexpected a few short years ago, and in August the new Compass led Jeep.

The new 2011 Compass posted a 130% sales gain, leading all Jeep products, to 4,400 units. The Compass compact SUV gets 28 miles per gallon on the highway. For the year, Compass sales are up 124% to 29,521.

Jeep had its best month since December 2007, as five Jeep brand models posted year-over-year sales gains in August.

Year-to-date, Jeep sales are up 50% to 268,228, while total Chrysler Group sales are up 22% to 882,077.

Ford Explorer

While Ford sales rose 11% in August, sales of Ford brand utilities gained 49% .

Sales of the new Ford Explorer rose 300% to 9,901 units. The Explorer, part of the new generation of high mileage SUVs, gets 28 miles per gallon on the highway.

Through August, Ford was the best-selling brand of utility vehicles in the U.S., with sales totaling 377,112 units.

Nissan Altima

While its Japanese rivals continued to falter, Nissan was moving ahead, thanks to its fully-stocked inventories.

Altima saw sales rise 24.5% to 23,016 units, making it the fourth best-selling vehicle in the U.S. behind Ford's F-Series, the Chevy Silverado, and Toyota's Camry. The same rankings apply for the full year.

"Nissan expects to see continued market share gains thanks to better vehicle availability than key competitors and strong performances by our top sellers: the Altima, Rogue and Versa," said Al Castignetti, Nissan vice president and general manager.

Nissan group sales rose 22.4% in August to 82,517 units.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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