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Leasing helps drive double-digit US auto gains

Many automakers reported double-digit August sales gains in the United States, as the industry continues to recover from the recession.

General Motors Co. on Wednesday said its sales rose 15 percent, its strongest month since September 2008. Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group each posted 12 percent increases last month, fueled by a mix of small and mid-size cars and trucks.

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Leasing is helping in the gains. In the second quarter, leasing accounted for more than 27 percent of new vehicle purchases, compared with about 24 percent in the same quarter last year, according to Experian Automotive, which collects and analyzes automotive data. During the recession, the pace of leasing slipped after dealers made too many subprime, or low-quality, loans.

“Attractive low lease payments have proven very effective at getting new car buyers back into the market,” said Jessica Caldwell, a senior analyst at Edmunds.com, an industry researcher. “In many cases, leasees are paying less than they did prerecession while getting a more expensive car.”

All four of GM’s brands showed double-digit increases in August sales. Cadillac posted the largest growth, with sales rising 38 percent; it was the best monthly showing for the brand since 1989. Buick’s sales jumped 37 percent, the strongest results in a decade. Sales of the automaker’s GMC brand jumped 14 percent, and its Chevrolet brand rose 10 percent.

“Our transformed lineup of cars, trucks, and crossovers is performing very, very well,” said Kurt McNeil, GM’s vice president of US sales operations.

Ford reported its best month for retail sales since August 2006. The mid-size Fusion had good gains after Ford increased production at its Flat Rock assembly plant in Michigan. Sales of its small cars, like the Fiesta subcompact and C-Max, rose 30 percent, while sales of the F-Series increased 22 percent.

“At August’s pace, we are selling one F-Series pickup every 42 seconds, 24-7,” Ken Czubay, Ford’s vice president of marketing, sales, and service in the United States,said in a conference call.

Chrysler said six of its vehicles set sales records for August: the Dodge Journey midsize crossover, Challenger muscle car, and Dart compact, as well as the Jeep Wrangler, Compass, and Patriot. All five Chrysler Group brands reported sales gains in August, led by a 29 percent increase for Ram trucks.

Toyota’s sales rose more than 22 percent last month, to nearly 232,000 vehicles. Nissan’s sales were also up 22 percent.

Volkswagen continued its steady sales decline, falling 1.6 percent last month after declining 3.3 percent in July. The company’s growth has stalled as its lineup ages and competition intensifies.

“Volkswagen is unfortunately caught between product cycles on its volume models just as industry sales are taking off,” Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, said in a statement. “This has the brand struggling to make headway against fresher designs in a highly competitive market.”

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