DETROIT — General Motors, Chrysler, Ford and Nissan on Thursday reported surprisingly strong sales results for August given the economic climate. Toyota and Honda, however, continued to be hurt by model shortages from the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Industry analysts had expected a weaker August because of consumers' anxiety about the economy and Hurricane Irene, which forced many dealers to close during the key final weekend of the month.
But Don Johnson, GM's U.S. sales chief, said other factors are making cars more attractive to buyers, including new products, low interest rates and stronger household budgets.
"Consumers are being cautious, yes, and appropriately so, but they are not retrenching," he said. "All indications to us are that the industry is going to continue to slowly grow through the rest of the year."
Chrysler sales led the way in August with an increase of almost 31 percent from a year earlier. GM's sales rose 18 percent, Nissan was up 19.2 percent, and Ford reported an 1.2 percent increase. Toyota sales were off almost 13 percent, while Honda sales were down 24.3 percent.
Both companies expect better sales in September because their factories are returning to normal production.
Chrysler reported its strong est August since 2007 with sales led by Jeeps and minivans, while Ford said sales of its redesigned Explorer sport utility vehicle quadrupled over last year. Nissan's sales were fueled by subcompact and midsize cars such as the new four-door Versa and Altima sedan.
GM's big increase was sparked by the Chevrolet Cruze compact, which accounted for one in every 10 GM vehicles sold. The Cruze, introduced last year, has been a top seller for the company since the start of the year, giving the company its first strong product in a growing market. Cruze sales topped 20,000 for the fifth straight month. Buyers also went for the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain small crossovers.
Sales could improve more this fall when automakers offer sweeter deals and a wider selection of models. Cash-back offers, low-interest loans and other deals have been scarce this summer because of the model shortages. But they're expected to return as Honda and Toyota replenish their dealer lots in September and October and try to win back market share lost during the earthquake shortfalls.
Toyota also will begin selling its new Georgetown-built Camry sedan in October, which could lift sales.