Lots of folks in the auto industry must have been looking for champagne as August US light vehicle sales blew past analysts’ expectations. By the end of the day, there were suggestions that the industry might be able to sell 16m cars and light trucks by the end of December.

Manufacturers reported 1,501,294 sales, up 16.8% from August 2012. This translates into a SAAR of 16.09m, the highest reading since a 16.12m figure in November 2007.

From January to the end of August, which included the Labor Day holiday this year, automakers have sold as many light vehicles as were delivered in the entire 2009 calendar year. 

Making the bottom line picture even rosier is that fleet sales are accounting for a smaller share of the market. Chrysler, Ford and GM all reported improved retail sales. Ford, normally the most fleet dependant of the Detroit automakers, said its retail sales volume were the highest since 2006 and GM said its retail sales rose 22%.

All three Detroit automakers beat their year ago numbers with GM’s 14.7% improvement leading the way. Cadillac’s new ATS and XTS are delivering good volumes as are Buick’s revamped LaCrosse and Enclave crossover.

Ford got a 12% boost from record sales of the Fusion and Lincoln MKZ and reported good growth in its small vehicle lines.

Chrysler finished the month with an 11.5% advance, making 41 consecutive months of year over year sales growth. Car sales, which hit Chrysler’s July results, came back nicely in August.

Toyota had its best August in five years to hold on to the second spot in the pecking order for another month and American Honda rode a continuing surge in Civic sales to set an August record and remain at fourth, beating Chrysler Group by 880 sales.

Nissan outperformed its 2012 numbers by 22.3%, thanks to a big boost from the Leaf, Pathfinder and Rogue. Sales of the interestingly styled Juke were up 30%.

The second tier Japanese car companies all had banner Augusts. Subaru sales soared 45%, setting a new record, while Mazda reported its best August sales in 10 years. Mitsubishi got in on the action with a 24.3% jump that had them within 336 sales of being even with the first eight months of 2012.

Together, the Japanese car companies took 2.6% more of the pie than they got last August.

Hyundai and Kia added to their string of sales records though they still gave up 0.7 points of market share to the Japanese juggernaut.

Parent company Volkswagen was one of the few brands to miss its mark but Audi and Porsche came though with record results. Sales of BMW’s MINI brand also set a new August benchmark.

Sales of American brand full-size pickups continue to outpace the market. Deliveries of the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra and Ram were up 21.7%, accounting for more than 11% of all sales. Chrysler’s Ram showed the most growth: August sales were up 30.9%.

Barring catastrophe, a 15m sale year looks to be a done deal, even with some slower months ahead. 16m sounds great, but that’s going to be a push unless automakers want to roll out the rebates again.

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