Auto Sales in August Top Estimates Despite Flat Ford Sales and a Small GM Decline

DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- Five years into a slow economic recovery, auto sales continue to show surprising strength, with Chrysler and Ford ( F)  estimating that industry sales for August will gain 3%, despite widespread projections that sales would be flat compared with a year earlier.

Chrysler also said the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate for August is expected to reach 17.4 million units, the year's highest level, while Kelley Blue Book said new car transaction prices rose nearly 3%. GM (GM) said on Wednesday that full-year light vehicle sales are expected to be near the high-end of its January outlook, which was for sales of 16 million to 16.5 million.

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In August, Ford sales rose 0.4% to 222,174, while GM sales were down 1%. August had one fewer selling day in 2014 than it did in 2013. GM said its sales rose 2% when adjusted for selling days. In 2013, August was GM's best sales month of the year.  Chrysler's sales in August rose 20% and Nissan's  (NSANY) sales gained 11.5%.

Ford sales totaled 221,174 vehicles, the company's best August in eight years. "Both Fusion and Escape set records in August, each continuing on a strong pace toward 2014 being a best-ever sales year," said John Felice, Ford vice president, U.S. marketing, sales and service, in a prepared statement.

Sales of the F-Series pickup truck, the best-selling U.S. vehicle, fell 4.2% to 68,109 units. Fusion sales rose 19% to 29,452. Escape sales rose 9% to 28,996.

GM delivered 272,423 vehicles in August. Silverado sales gained 13% to 49,201. But Chevrolet sales fell 1% to 185,930, with Cruze, the top GM car, down 2% to 23,435. Buick sales fell 10% to 22,143 while Cadillac sales fell 18% to 16,650. Retail sales fell 4%, while fleet sales gained 9%.

GM said its incentive spending as a percentage of average transaction prices was 10.4%, the lowest of all domestic automakers by a significant margin.

"We see a strong fall selling season ahead for GM and the industry, which sets the stage for the launches of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon," said Kurt McNeil, U.S. vice president of sales operations, in a prepared statement. "Car-buying fundamentals like employment and energy prices are in good shape, consumer confidence has reached a post-recession high and business investment is increasing."

Chrysler's sales last month rose to 198,379, the group's best August since 2002, as Jeep brand sales rose 49% to 68,766, the brand's best August ever. Sales of the Ram pickup truck rose 33% to 43,775, the vehicle's best August since 2003.

Nissan said August sales totaled 134,888 units, up 11.5% from the same month a year earlier and an August record. Nissan brand sales rose 15.3% to 125,224, also an August record.

 "August's industry sales results are looking even stronger than anticipated, which is a good sign for the industry, and Nissan dealers continued the good summer momentum by breaking the August record we set last year," said Fred Diaz, senior vice president for U.S. sales, marketing and operations, in a prepared statement.

Sales of Nissan's all-electric Leaf rose 32% to 3,186, the highest monthly total ever. Rogue sales rose 24% to 21,419, also the highest monthly total ever. Altima sales rose 4% to 32,153, the best August ever.

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Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.
To contact this writer, click here.
Follow @tedreednc

At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned. This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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