DETROIT (AP) - Chrysler's U.S. sales rose 12 percent last month as strong truck sales pushed the company to its best August in six years.
All major automakers report sales numbers Wednesday.
Chrysler sold nearly 166,000 cars and trucks last month. It predicts that total U.S. sales will run at an annual rate of 16.1 million, a pace last seen before the Great Recession. Industry analysts say August could be the best month since May of 2007, when gasoline prices set off panic buying of fuel-thrifty vehicles.
LMC Automotive, an industry consulting firm, is predicting that total U.S. sales last month were close to 1.5 million, about 12 percent higher than a year ago and the highest monthly total in more than six years.
This time, small cars aren't the only big sellers. Analysts say people are buying everything from tiny Honda Fits to big pickup trucks as an improving economy keeps pushing auto sales higher.
Some consumers still find gas prices high enough that they're buying small cars. Plus, these vehicles are nicer than they were six years ago, far quieter and safer with more features, said Tom Libby, lead North American analyst for the Polk automotive research firm. In fact, compact and subcompact cars could challenge midsize cars as the largest segment in the U.S., according to analysts from Kelley Blue Book.
Still, gas prices aren't the catalyst they were back in 2007 and 2008. In fact, gas this August was the cheapest in three years.
In May 2007, automakers sold more than 1.56 million cars and trucks, due largely to a boom in small cars as the nationwide average for gas topped $3 a gallon for the first time. That helped the Japanese automakers. Sales of Toyota's Prius gas-electric hybrid nearly tripled.
But last month, Toyota had to discount the Prius to boost sales.
Buyers are paying record prices for their cars and trucks, according to the TrueCar.com auto pricing web site. The average U.S. vehicle sold for an estimated $31,252 last month, up almost $1,000 over August of last year. Five automakers, Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Nissan and Volkswagen, all had record-high selling prices last month, according to TrueCar.
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