Automakers logged one of the best sales months since the Great Recession in May as buyers, lured by good weather and the Memorial Day weekend, streamed into dealerships.
Automakers sold about 1.6 million vehicles in May, up 11.4% from the same month a year earlier, according to Autodata Corp., which collects data for the industry. The strong sales — boosted by the five weekends in May and Memorial Day — put car manufacturers on pace to sell more than 16 million vehicles this year. Automakers are headed for their best year since 2006.
The sales "seemed almost to defy logic," said Jack Nerad, an analyst with auto information company Kelley Blue Book. "In a month that included dismal consumer confidence scores, and the announcement that the American economy as a whole had actually contracted in the first quarter, auto sales were very robust."
"Auto sales have been one of the bright spots for the economy, there is no question about it," said Beth Ann Bovino, senior economist at Standard & Poor's.
Truck sales continued to increase, a sign that the housing and construction trades are poised to grow in the coming months, Bovino said.
Auto sales, along with employment growth that has recently averaged more than 200,000 jobs a month, signal that the economy is stronger than many think.
"I am expecting a pretty nice rebound in the second quarter, a healthy 3.7% bounce in the GDP," Bovino said. "Auto sales would be a factor."
General Motors Co. dealers delivered 284,694 vehicles in May, up 12.6% compared with a year earlier. It was the company's best May in seven years. GM's Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC brands all posted healthy gains.
GM sales grew despite the automaker's involvement in a massive recall scandal. The company is under federal investigation for waiting until this year to recall vehicles with faulty ignition switches linked to at least 13 deaths, even though the automaker has known about the problem for more than a decade.
Including about 2.6 million cars recalled to fix the defective switch, GM has called back more than 13 million vehicles in the U.S. this year, a record for the automaker and almost as many as the entire industry recalls in some years.
"Car shoppers don't seem to be holding anything against GM brands," said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with auto information company Edmunds.com.
Ford Motor Co. sales totaled 253,346 vehicles in May, up 3% from a year earlier, Autodata said.
"It was a very good month for the industry. It started very solid. We had a very strong Memorial Day weekend," said John Felice, Ford's vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service.
Felice said he was encouraged that the pace of industry sales last month has overcome the slow start to the year.
Chrysler Group posted U.S. sales of 194,421 units, a 16.7% increase and the automaker's best May since 2007.
Chrysler is growing on the strength of its Jeep brand. Helped by a 58% gain from a year earlier, Jeep had its best ever sales month in the U.S.
Japanese automakers also did well in the U.S. in May.
Toyota reported sales of 243,236 vehicles, an increase of 17% from a year earlier.
"Industry sales in May soared as consumer confidence improved and demand for new vehicles continued to strengthen," said Bill Fay, Toyota division group vice president and general manager.
Honda's May sales rose 9% to 152,603 vehicles.
Nissan sales were 135,934, an increase of 18.8%. It was a record May for Nissan. The month also was the best ever for Nissan's Leaf electric car, with 3,117 units sold, an increase of 45.8% from a year earlier.
Hyundai Motor America posted its best month ever in the U.S. with May sales of 70,907, up 3.7% from a year earlier.
Mazda sold 29,731 vehicles last month, a 22.5% gain and the automaker's best May in 18 years.
Overall, new-car transaction prices for the industry climbed more than 2% from a year earlier to an estimated $32,307, according to Kelley Blue Book. Chrysler reported the biggest gain in average transaction prices, at 4.8%, the auto information company said.