August was a blockbuster month for automakers in the U.S. With few exceptions, manufacturers announced improved results with many companies breaking records. Ward’s reported deliveries of more than 1.7 million light vehicles, a 13.5% increase over August 2001 and enough to put 2002 ahead of 2001 in year-to-date (YTD) sales.

Sports-utility vehicles played a large part in the August bull market for cars. Jeep’s best-ever sales month helped Chrysler achieve a 24% increase, the largest improvement among American brands. General Motors’ sales were up 18%, partially due to all-time record sales of SUVs. Ford had its best month of 2002 with a 12% improvement over last August as the Explorer and Mountaineer set new records.

Ford also managed to regain the bragging rights, outselling Chevrolet for the month and padding its lead for the year.

Managers at the import brands were also celebrating. Honda set an all-time monthly sales record and Toyota beat the sales record they set only three months ago. Even Mazda reported good news. Hyundai broke the 40,000-unit mark for the first time and Kia announced it is well on its way to reaching its goal of a 10% increase in annual sales.

Among the major players, only Volkswagen and Volvo reported shortfalls. Volkswagen dropped 10% and is now almost 3% off its 2001 pace. Volvo is now down more than 16% for the year and is depending the new XC90 SUV to regain some ground.

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America’s love affair with the truck continues unabated. Last month, trucks captured 51.4 percent of light vehicle sales. Ford’s F-Series continued its reign at the top, more than 21,000 sales ahead of Chevy’s second-place Silverado. The Ford Explorer came in third with the best monthly sales ever recorded by an SUV. The Dodge Ram pickup was DaimlerChrysler’s bestseller in August.

While the domestic nameplates still dominate in trucks, Detroit is losing ground in cars. The import brands captured over 54% of passenger car sales in August. The Honda Accord topped the segment, beating the Toyota Camry for the second month in a row. The Ford Taurus remains the leader among American-badged cars, but trails the Honda Civic.

Record sales propelled Lexus past BMW in both August and YTD sales, but the big news was Cadillac. GM’s premium brand also blew past BMW as it posted a 54% increase over August 2001. The Cadillac DeVille was the best-selling luxury vehicle. BMW had to settle for third place, followed by Mercedes.

DaimlerChrysler is still king of the minivans, capturing almost four of every ten sales last month. Honda’s Odyssey continues to make a strong showing and is close to passing the Ford Windstar in YTD sales.

August milestones: Ford sold its 150 millionth vehicle since the first Model A was delivered to a Chicago dentist named E. Pfennig on July 11, 1903. BMW’s new Mini surpassed the six-year U.S. sales total of its predecessor. By August 31, Americans had snapped up 12,794 Minis since the brand’s reintroduction to the U.S. market in March.