DETROIT (TheStreet) -- Auto sales in May were surprisingly strong as a fifth weekend provided more selling opportunities and recalls didn't seem to bother consumers.
May sales showed "positive momentum for the economy in the current quarter and into the second half," said Ford (F) economist Emily Kolinski Morris on the Ford sales call. She noted that buyer motivation may be shifting. "We are getting into a little bit more discretionary purchases on the part of consumers," she said, and moving away from the need to replace aging vehicles.
Auto sales are a particularly useful economic indicator: They measure major purchases, they are reported quickly and they are not revised.
GM (GM) said May sales rose a surprisingly strong 13%, while Chrysler sales rose 17%. Overall sales rose 9% to 10%, Ford estimated. Ford sales rose just 3%, but Ford pointed to strong trends for the F-150, the best-selling U.S. vehicle. The F-150 average transaction price was the highest in the segment and F-150 incentives were lowest among the top pickup trucks.
Toyota (TM) said sales rose 17%. "Industry sales in May soared as consumer confidence improved and demand for new vehicles continued to strengthen," said Bill Fay, Toyota division group vice president and general manager, in a prepared statement.
Nissan sales rose 19%. "Nissan started the month with strong momentum and rode an outstanding Memorial Day weekend to capture our best May sales performance in the history of Nissan in the U.S.," said Fred Diaz, senior vice president, Nissan sales & marketing and operations, in a prepared statement. Volkswagen sales fell 11.5%.