Automakers see big US sales gains in May

DETROIT (AP) — Brisk demand for SUVs and pickup trucks — and five sunny weekends — likely pushed U.S. auto sales to a seven-year high in May.

Chrysler, Nissan and Toyota all reported double-digit sales gains over last May. Even General Motors, battling bad publicity from a mishandled recall, surprised with a 13 percent sales increase.

Ford’s sales rose a better-than-expected 3 percent, while Hyundai’s were up 4 percent. Of major automakers, only Volkswagen’s sales fell.

May is traditionally a strong month for the auto industry, as buyers spend their tax returns and think ahead to summer road trips. This year’s calendar, with five weekends, gave it an extra boost. Sales were particularly strong the last weekend of the month, automakers said.

Analysts were expecting sales to rise 7 percent to 8 percent to 1.56 million in May, helping erase doubts about the strength of the industry. January and February sales were weaker than expected as consumers spent more time shoveling snow than shopping.

May sales were strong even without big discounts from automakers. Car buying site TrueCar.com estimated incentives were flat from last May and up 4 percent from April to $2,677 per vehicle. TrueCar said Hyundai, Kia and Honda had the biggest increases in incentives in May. Chrysler, GM and Nissan offered fewer deals.

GM said May was its best month since August 2008. Sales of its GMC Yukon and Buick Encore SUVs more than doubled, and buyers snapped up the new Chevrolet Corvette. GMC Sierra pickup sales gained 14 percent.

Toyota’s sales increased 17 percent over last May. Sales of the Corolla small car jumped 31 percent as a new version hit showrooms, while sales of the Camry midsize sedan, the country’s best-selling car, rose 26 percent to nearly 50,000. Luxury Lexus brand sales were up 21 percent.

Ford said it was a record month for the Fusion sedan and Escape SUV, which both topped 30,000 in sales. Sales for the Lincoln luxury brand gained 21 percent as the new MKC small SUV went on sale.

But Ford’s truck sales dropped 4 percent as the automaker cut back on incentives.

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