The major U.S. and Japanese automakers all posted double-digit U.S. sales gains last month compared with August 2012 as car buyers snapped up pickup trucks and small cars to lead the industry toward its best month in six years.
Auto stocks rose, with Ford and GM up about 4 percent. U.S.-traded shares of the Japanese automakers all rose more than 1 percent.
Sales in August ran at an annual rate of 16.1 million cars and trucks, a pace not seen since November 2007, a month before the start of the Great Recession.
Mustafa Mohatarem, GM's chief economist, predicted that rate of sales is here to stay. History, he said, shows that auto sales follow a trend, and that trend is now back above pre-recession levels.
"With the underlying economy fairly solid and with the still very high average age of the fleet, I have full expectations that we will continue to see a fairly steady industry," Mohatarem said.
The average age of a vehicle on U.S. roads today is a record 11.4 years, according to the Polk research firm. That means more people have to replace cars and trucks that they kept through the recession.
Also, the industry is on better footing than it was in 2007. Prices are high and automakers aren't resorting to huge discounts to pull customers into showrooms, Mohatarem said.
Consumers are spending at record levels to buy loaded-up vehicles, according to the TrueCar.com auto pricing website. The average U.S. vehicle sold for an estimated $31,252 last month, up almost $1,000 over last August and $24 higher than the previous record in December 2012. Five automakers — Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Nissan and Volkswagen — all had record-high selling prices last month, according to TrueCar.
Honda's sales were led by a record month for the popular CR-V. The company sold nearly 35,000 of the crossover SUVs. Toyota sold almost 45,000 Camry midsize cars, up 22 percent from August of last year.
Ford sold more than 70,000 F-Series pickups last month, the second month this year that sales have topped 70,000 for the nation's top-selling vehicle. Sales of Chrysler's Ram pickup rose 31 percent to more than 33,000. GM's Chevrolet Silverado was up 14 percent to nearly 44,000.
Ford reported sales of more than 221,000 vehicles. Sales of the Fusion midsize car were up almost 14 percent to nearly 25,000.
At GM, sales rose to nearly 276,000, led by pickups and the Sonic subcompact with sales up 31 percent. The Buick and Cadillac brands posted sales increases of more than 36 percent.