DETROIT — Price cuts at Nissan and strong demand for pickup trucks helped U.S. auto sales rebound in May after a slight dip in April.
General Motors reported its strongest monthly sales since September 2008. Chrysler, Ford and Toyota also reported increases. Nissan notched its highest May sales ever after cutting prices on seven popular models early in the month. Only Volkswagen said its sales fell compared with those in May of last year.
The strong sales are another sign that auto sales will continue to boost the U.S. economy, as consumers replace aging vehicles and businesses invest in trucks as they gain confidence.
Builders are buying pickups at a rapid pace as home construction continues to rebound. Ford said sales of its F-Series pickup — the nation's bestselling vehicle — hit 71,604, the highest since March 2007. Chrysler Group said Ram pickup sales jumped 22 percent from last May to almost 32,000. Chevy Silverado sales rose 25 percent to more than 43,000.
Analysts expected a strong May for the industry after a slightly disappointing April. They forecast a 7 percent increase over May 2012 to about 1.4 million vehicles, putting the industry back on pace for full-year sales of more than 15 million.
"This quick rebound is just another example of how the auto industry is currently one of the most resilient areas of the overall economy," said Jessica Caldwell, a senior analyst at car-shopping site Edmunds.com.
Truck sales, combined with increases in sales of other vehicles, show that the economic recovery is sticking, said Kurt McNeil, GM's vice president of sales.
"These are all powerful signs that the gradual recovery in the economy is becoming more broad-based," he said in a statement.
General Motors sales rose 3 percent, thanks to the continuing strength of the Chevrolet Silverado pickup. Sales of the Buick Verano, Chevrolet Cruze and Chevrolet Sonic small cars all rose by double digits. Cadillac brand sales rose nearly 40 percent. But Buick sales fell 3 percent, and sales of the Impala full-sized car and the Malibu midsize sedan plummeted more than 30 percent.
Ford sales rose 14 percent in May as sales of the F-Series rose 31 percent. Other strong sellers included the Ford Fusion sedan, which gained 10 percent, and the Ford Escape, which was up 26 percent. Ford sold more than 29,000 Escapes, the highest monthly total since the small SUV's introduction 13 years ago. Lincoln brand sales were flat. Ford plans to increase third-quarter North American production 10 percent to 740,000 vehicles. Second-quarter production is unchanged at 800,000.
Chrysler sales were up 11 percent on strong demand for the Ram and the Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV. The company saw its best May sales in six years. The figures surprised some analysts who had expected a sales decline.
Among Japanese automakers, Nissan sales gained 25 percent over those a year ago. The total of 114,000 set a company record for May. Sales of the Altima midsize sedan rose 41 percent, while sales of the redesigned Pathfinder SUV more than quadrupled. Nissan sold 2,100 Leaf electric cars, the best month since the car hit the market two years ago.