DETROIT - Chrysler and Nissan both posted double-digit U.S. sales gains last month, signs of strong August for the industry.
Chrysler's sales leaped 20 percent as the Jeep brand led the automaker to its best August in a dozen years. Nissan reported nearly a 12 percent increase.
The numbers are a sign of a strong month for the industry as dealers sell off 2014 models to make room for new ones. They also demonstrate the accelerating shift of American buyers from cars to higher-sitting crossover SUVs.
Many analysts are predicting flat sales for the month compared with a year ago. But sales in August of 2013 were strong, too. All automakers report U.S. sales figures on Wednesday, and there are signs that the industry could beat analyst expectations.
"August's industry sales results are looking even stronger than anticipated, which is a good sign for the industry," Nissan U.S. sales chief Fred Diaz said in a statement.
Chrysler is predicting that the industry's annual sales rate in August will hit over 17 million light vehicles. The last time that happened was in August of 2006, according to LMC Automotive, an industry consulting firm. Sales had been running at just over 16 million earlier in the year.
Chrysler said it sold 198,378 cars and trucks last month, led once again by the Jeep brand with sales up 49 percent. Jeeps are in a sweet spot as buyers shift from cars to crossover SUVs. Jeep's hottest-selling vehicle was the new Cherokee midsize SUV with nearly 19,000 sales. Ram pickup sales rose 33 percent. Chrysler's car sales fell 3 percent, but truck sales were up 28 percent.
Nissan said it sold 134,388 cars and trucks last month including the Infiniti luxury brand. It was the best August ever for the company. The new Rogue small crossover SUV led the way with a 21 percent sales increase to 21,419.
Industry analysts are expecting August sales to rise over 1.5 million vehicles, up slightly from a year ago despite one more selling day last year.
Sales are expected to get a boost from the Labor Day holiday weekend and end-of-the-model-year deals, especially on small and midsize cars.
Jeff Schuster, executive vice president of forecasting for LMC, said it appears the Labor Day weekend helped the industry with a strong finish to the month.
The sales so far show that shoppers are going more for trucks, including the crossover SUVs. "The combination of low gas prices, a smorgasbord of product choice and attractive (not overly aggressive) pricing is clearly the nudge buyers need to return to trucks," he said.
Crossover SUVs generally are built on car underpinnings, so they're more efficient and maneuverable than the older truck-based SUVs. Gas mileage has improved to the point where many get over 30 mpg on the highway.
Chrysler's big increase, Schuster said, is largely because the Jeep Cherokee wasn't on sale at this time last year.