U.S. Car Sales Roar in August

Fueled by pickups and small vehicles alike, monthly totals reach levels not seen since before the Great Recession.

Move over, Miley Cyrus—August belonged to the big car companies.

In another strong sign of economic recovery, auto companies racked up big numbers for August. There were two major trends. Small, energy- and cost-efficient vehicles flew off the lots as budgets remained tight, oil prices rose, and carmakers rolled out appealing new products. And as a byproduct of the continuing resurgence of housing, sales of high-margin pickup trucks and SUVs also rose smartly.

Chrysler, which reported its best August sales since prerecession 2007, reflected those trends. Sales of the Ram Truck line were up 29 percent year over year, whiles sales of the Dodge Durango SUV were up 117 percent. Its Fiat brand also continued to gain traction, increasing year-to-date sales by 4 percent. The newly introduced Dodge Dart, which gets 41 miles per gallon on the highway, kept up its impressive streak with its third straight increase in year-over-year monthly sales.

Ford also saw massive gains from big and small vehicles. Its F-Series of trucks moved 71,115 for the month, up 22 percent from the previous year. (The last time Ford saw numbers that strong was in 2006.) The Fusion, already a popular car given its price tag and energy efficiency, also saw record sales for the month of August. The Fiesta and C-Max hybrid models, which were up 30 percent, pitched in as well. And in a good sign for American manufacturing, Ford is increasing fourth-quarter production 7 percent from 2012.

Rounding out the Big Three, GM was also up 15 percent year over year. Its electric car the Volt had its best month ever, selling 3,351 units. Small cars like the Spark (4,534 units, up 72 percent from August 2012) and Sonic (11,354 units, up 30.5 percent from August 2012) helped spur the largest U.S. automaker to its best month of sales since 2008.

Smaller foreign automakers thrived in August as well. Nissan, which posted a record number of sales per month, also saw the best month over from its electric car, the Nissan LEAF, which moved 2,420 units. The LEAF’s best market? Atlanta.

Toyota, for its part, said sales rose 18.4 percent in August 2013 from August 2012, to a strong 231,537. Toyota, um, clicked on all cylinders. Lexus sales were up strongly. SUV sales were up 20 percent. And the Prius family, whose sales had been suffering for much of the year due to increased competition in the hybrid sector, saw sales rise 25 percent from August 2012 to 27,358.

There’s one important statistic to keep in mind: according to the Los Angeles Times, only 14 percent of the sales in August were expected to be fleet sales, i.e., bulk sales to rental-car companies and the government. This means that the strong numbers are being driven largely by individual consumers who now have the confidence to replace their ancient cars.

Apparently, despite all the hand-wringing, it still pays to make things in America.