Auto sales soar in August, but prices rise, too

Auto sales for August are on pace to have their best month in six years, with pickup trucks leading the charge. But along with higher auto sales come higher prices. 

Rick Wilking/Reuters/File
The sign at a General Motors Chevrolet dealer is seen behind a Chevrolet pickup truck in Golden, Color., Wednesday. US auto sales were on a pace to show a gain as high as 17 percent in August as the industry raced toward its strongest month since just before the start of the 2007-2009 recession.

Vehicle sales in the US were expected to be hot in August. They were blazing.

All told, auto sales figures, released today by dealers, are on pace to jump 17 percent from July, topping a 16 million annualized rate for the month of August. That would be the best sales pace since November 2007. Analysts expected a 15.8 million annualized pace.

Each of the big three Detroit automakers – General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford – posted sales gains percentages in double digits for July. General Motors fared the best of the three, selling 275,847 vehicles in the US and posting a 14.7 percent sales gain from August 2012. Ford sold 221,270 US cars last month, up 12.2 percent from the August of last year. And Chrysler sold 165,552 vehicles in the US last month, up 12 percent from August 2012.

"The second half of 2013 is off to a very solid start for GM and our model-year change over and new product launches are going smoothly,” Kurt McNeil, GM’s vice president of US sales operations, said in a company release. “We have a lot of momentum and we feel good about the direction of the US economy as we prepare to launch even more new products, including all-new heavy duty pickups and large SUVs for Chevrolet and GMC, a completely redesigned Cadillac CTS and the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.” 

The major Japanese automakers also fared well. Toyota sold 231,537 vehicles in the US in August and increased sales 22.8 percent from a year ago. Nissan sold 120,498 US vehicles and increased its sales by 22.8 percent from August 2012.

For the US automakers, pickup sales led the way. Ford’s sales of F-Series pickup trucks rose 22 percent in August, and GM’s Chevrolet Silverado sales rose 14 percent. Chrysler’s Dodge Ram pickup increased sales by 29 percent last month. But for General Motors, two luxury brands were the real stars: Sales of Cadillac and Buick vehicles rose 38 percent and 37 percent in August, respectively.

The news wasn't rosy for everyone. Volkswagen sales dropped 1.6 percent in August, and Hyundai lagged behind the rest of the market with a comparatively paltry 8 percent sales gain. What's more, some analysts argue that the August numbers could be a bit inflated. "While we expect sales to remain solid, we do not anticipate the pace of increase we have seen recently to be maintained," MFR, Inc. economist Joshua Shapiro wrote in an e-mailed analysis. "Moreover, with August sales reported comparatively late (they are usually reported on the first or second day of the month), it is probable that some sales that actually occurred in September made their way into the August data. To that extent, September’s reported sales will suffer."

Even before the numbers were released, analysts expected auto sales to be strong, if not quite this strong. On the lower end, projected auto sales to increase 10.9 percent from July and 13.3 percent from 2012.

"Car buyers are continuing their steady march into car dealerships and they'll keep marching right through Labor Day weekend with attractive deals and promotions luring them in," Michelle Krebs, Edmunds senior analyst, wrote last week. "While retail sales are strong in August, automakers are further reducing their dependence on fleet sales."

As auto sales continue to rise, so do prices. A study from found that the Average Transaction Price (ATP) for a US vehicle in August reached $31,252 last month, up 3.2 percent from August 2012. 

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