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Auto sales on pace for best month since 2007

A worker checks cars made by GM in a yard of GM Korea's Bupyeong plant before they are transported to a port for export in this file photo. (Reuters)

A worker checks cars made by GM in a yard of GM Korea's Bupyeong plant before they are transported to a port for export in this file photo. (Reuters)

DETROIT — U.S. auto sales were on a pace to show a gain as high as 17 percent in August as the industry raced toward its strongest month since just before the start of the 2007-2009 recession.

Last month's sales will top 16 million vehicles on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis, several automakers said, which would be the first time U.S. sales topped that level since November 2007.

General Motors Co said August auto sales were 16.3 million vehicles on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis.

This would easily top the 15.8 million annualized sales rate forecast by 45 analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

Consumers, driving vehicles that are on average more than 11 years old, are securing cheap financing to buy new cars and trucks, said Ken Czubay, Ford Motor Co U.S. sales chief. He said automakers were aggressive in their Labor Day weekend marketing, which boosted sales for the last three days of August.

GM, the No. 1 seller in the U.S. market, on Wednesday reported August U.S. sales up 15 percent, and Toyota Motor Corp said sales gained 23 percent. Both automakers easily beat analyst expectations.

Toyota sold 4.6 percent more vehicles in the United States than Ford in August. It was the second straight month that the Japanese automaker outsold Ford, ranking it No. 2 behind GM.

Before July, Toyota had not bested Ford in monthly sales since March 2010.

"The auto industry continues to be a bright spot in the economic recovery," said Bill Fay, Toyota division group vice president and general manager.

Japanese-based automaker Nissan Motor Co also had a good sales month, showing a 22 percent increase.

Monthly auto sales are viewed as an early indicator of the U.S. economy's health. The industry has held up better than the broader economy due in part to consumers' need to replace aging vehicles, which now average more than 11 years.

Chrysler Group LLC and Ford each said their August U.S. sales rose 12 percent, and both automakers reported that pickup truck models led the way, in part due to the rising housing market.

Ford's sales outstripped analyst expectations and Chrysler's matched them.

Ford sales analyst Erich Merkle said the auto industry will show a 17 percent U.S. sales gain for August, and a seasonally adjusted annualized selling rate of more than 16 million vehicles.

Before the 2008-2010 industry downturn, it was routine for U.S. auto sales to top 16 million vehicles each year. In a 10-year span ending in 2007, U.S. auto sales averaged 16.7 million vehicles.

Pickup truck sales remained strong in August for the major U.S. automakers, continuing a trend that began almost a year ago.

Ford said it sold 71,115 F-Series pickup trucks, up 22 percent, which matches the line's year-to-date gains.

GM's Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck sales rose 14 percent and through August has increased its sales 25 percent.

Chrysler's truck brand, Ram, showed a robust 29 percent sales gain in August, and has a gain of 25 percent through August.

LMC Automotive expects this year's U.S. sales to finish at 15.6 million vehicles, which would be a 7.6 percent gain from 2012. Auto companies are making the gains as the average transaction price for a new vehicle in the United States climbed to a record $31,252 in August, said TrueCar.com.

Volkswagen AG said its sales were down 1.6 percent in the month.

Chrysler is a unit of Italy's Fiat SpA.

Ford shares were up 2.9 percent at $16.82 and GM shares were up 2.8 percent at $35.10 on Wednesday morning on the New York Stock Exchange.