Ford's May sales rose 14 percent, Chrysler's increased 11 percent and
General Motors edged up 3 percent from a year earlier as a strong performance by
Cadillac offset weakness at Chevrolet and Buick.
A month after cutting prices, Nissan Motor Co. reported a 25 percent sales increase for May to 114,457 vehicles. Sales of the midsize Altima sedan rose 41 percent to 31,940.
Honda Motor Co. reported 140,013 sales in May, up 4.5 percent, on the strength of the Accord, Civic and CR-V. Toyota Motor Corp. said its U.S. sales rose 2.5 percent to 207,952 vehicles for the month and that it will release model-by-model data later.
Mitsubishi Motors North America, with a manufacturing plant in Normal, reported May sales of 4,715, a 15.4 percent drop from the 5,575 sales in May 2012, primarily due to discontinued models. Year- to-date sales total 25,172, down 8.3 percent from the 27,462 vehicles sold during the first five months of 2012.
Volkswagen Group of America sales fell 2 percent for the month to 38,013, as Subaru of America Inc., with a 34 percent sales increase, overtook the German automaker for the first time since December 2011, according to data from Edmunds.com.
"Our fuel-efficient Fusion and Escape have set monthly sales records for four straight months," said Ken Czubay, Ford Motor Co. vice president for U.S. marketing, sales and service. "F-Series sales - fueled by construction growth and pent-up demand - reached their highest level in more than six years."
Ford sold a total of 246,585 vehicles in May.
Conversely, car sales at General Motors Co. fell 6 percent, with the Malibu down 36 percent. GM sold 252,894 vehicles in the month.
Pickups sales were strong in May, which contributed to strong gains by Detroit automakers and helps explain smaller gains by the Japanese automakers as well as Volkswagen, which are more reliant on cars and car-based crossovers.
Sales of the Ford F-Series surged 31 percent; GM trucks were up 23 percent; Ram rose 22 percent. GM is clearing out its 2013 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups as it transitions to the 2014 models.
Ford sold 71,604 pickups in May, exceeding 70,000 for the first time since May 2007, and doing so as GM introduces its new trucks. Sales analyst Erich Merkle said Ford incentives on the trucks were only up $200 from April and $400 from May 2012.
Ford economist Jenny Lin said strong housing and commercial building starts as well as the energy sector are driving demand for pickups.
On the luxury side, GM's Cadillac was up 40 percent, the largest monthly increase since 1976. Ford's Lincoln sales were flat, but the new MKZ posted a 42 percent increase.
Chrysler Group LLC sales grew primarily on the strength of its Dodge and Ram brands.
Sales of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango SUVs increased 21 percent and 24 percent, respectively.
"Our best May sales in six years enabled us to extend our sales streak to 38-consecutive months of year-over-year sales gains," said Reid Bigland, Chrysler's head of U.S. sales.
In total, Chrysler sold 166,596 new cars and trucks last month.
Other strong models included the Jeep Compass, which was up 42 percent, and Dodge Charger, which posted a 23 percent jump from May 2012. Chrysler expects to begin producing the first of its 2014 Jeep Cherokee later this month in Toledo, Ohio.
GM had a 30 percent increase in sales of large SUVs. Its retail sales rose 9 percent, but overall sales were dented by a 10 percent decline in fleet sales, which represented 26 percent of its total for the month.
The Chevrolet brand eked out a 1 percent gain, bolstered by a 17.5 percent increase for Cruze sales to 23,055. But the midsize Malibu fell 36 percent to 18,899, adding urgency to the upgraded 2014 version GM revealed on Friday. Sales of the Chevrolet Volt fell 4 percent to 1,607.
Cadillac was a bright spot. The ATS and XTS sedans fueled the 40 percent increase. The brand had a poor first half of 2012, which also helps its sales comparisons.
GMC sales increased 7 percent, while Buick sales fell 3 percent.
Forecasters expected automakers to report that industrywide sales ran at an annual rate of slightly more than 15 million new vehicles.
In addition, Ford announced plans to increase production in the third quarter by 10 percent to 740,000 vehicles compared 673,000 vehicles produced in the third quarter of 2012. The automaker has said it is adding capacity this fall to make an additional 200,000 vehicles annually as well as 40,000 extra units by reducing summer shutdowns at many plants in the U.S. in July.
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