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US auto sales surge in May

Most leading automakers on Tuesday reported strong US sales increases for May that bested expectations, a sign of rising consumer confidence as the American economy picks up steam.

NEW YORK: Most leading automakers on Tuesday reported strong US sales increases for May that bested expectations, a sign of rising consumer confidence as the American economy picks up steam.

Auto giants including General Motors, Ford Motor and Toyota, among others, said some models scored record highs as the industry reported sales that, by some benchmarks, are the best since the financial crisis.

The May boom is a sign "that consumers are very confident in their purchases," said Alec Gutierrez, a senior analyst at Kelly Blue Book.

Automakers sold a total 1.61 million vehicles in May, up 11.4 percent from a year ago, according to industry specialist AutoData. Edmunds.com had projected sales of 1.55 million for the month.

The May annual sales rate surged to 16.8 million vehicles from 16.0 million in April, the highest level since February 2007, according to AutoData.

Gutierrez said many automakers did particularly well with sport-utility vehicles (SUVs), crossover vehicles and pickup trucks, indicating "people are more willing to splurge a little bit as opposed to making sacrifices."

But after four years of gains, Gutierrez said sales are expected to level off within the next year or two.

Analysts were impressed with sales at General Motors, which again showed the nation's largest automaker is enjoying strong interest from customers despite a series of recalls this year, including a massive recall of older model cars it no longer makes due to ignition problems linked to at least 13 deaths.

GM said May's sales of 284,694, an increase of 13 percent from last May, marked its best monthly sales since August 2008. Edmunds had forecast an increase of 6.7 percent at GM.

GM said its Buick line had its best May since 2005, while Cadillac and GMC had their best May since 2007.

"The trend in GM's total and retail sales has only improved since news of its ignition switch recall affecting older model cars became widely reported upon in the media," said JPMorgan Markets. "We believe this furthers our thesis that GM market share will not be materially impacted as a consequence of the issue."

Ford sales jumped three percent to 254,084, well above Edmunds's 0.9 percent estimate.

The number-two US automaker said its Ford Fusion and Ford Escape notched their best monthly sales ever, while the Ford Explorer had its best sales month since 2005.

Ford's strongest growth came in the SUV segment, which gained 9.5 percent, while cars rose 1.7 percent and trucks slipped 0.8 percent compared with May 2013.

Chrysler, a unit of Italian company Fiat Chrysler, and Honda also cited strong results with various truck and/or crossover vehicles.

Chrysler reported a sales increase of 17 percent to 194,421, better than the 14.4 percent increase projected by Edmunds.

The number-three US automaker said sales of Jeep jumped 58 percent, the largest increase of any Chrysler Group brands. It was Jeep's third consecutive month of record sales. Ram pickups were also strong.

"Our Jeep sport-utility vehicles and Ram pickups continued to do well in May as our dealers reported brisk May sales over five weekends and the Memorial Day holiday," said Reid Bigland, head of US sales for Chrysler.

Toyota's US sales came in at 243,236 units, an increase of 12.6 percent. Edmunds had projected an increase of 10.5 percent for the world's largest automaker.

Honda sold 152,603 units, an increase of 9.0 percent and better than the 3.6 percent growth seen by Edmunds. Honda said its light trucks sales set a record for May.

Nissan said May sales jumped 18.8 percent to 135,934, topping Edmunds' 13.2 percent forecast. The Nissan Sentra set a May sales record of 21,932, breaking a previous peak reached in 1984.

Hyundai scored its best month ever, notching sales of 70,907, up 3.7 percent from a year ago.

But Volkswagen sales slumped to 32,163, down 15.4 percent from last year.

Shares of Ford gained 0.6 percent to $16.55, while GM advanced 1.1 percent to $35.25.

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