DETROIT — Brisk demand for SUVs and pickup trucks — and five sunny weekends — likely pushed U.S. auto sales to a seven-year high in May.
Chrysler, Nissan and Toyota all reported double-digit sales gains over last May. Even General Motors, battling bad publicity from a mishandled recall, surprised with a 13 percent sales increase.
Ford's sales rose a better-than-expected 3 percent. Of major automakers, only Volkswagen's sales fell. Volkswagen sales were down 15 percent as the brand prepared to launch the new Golf compact car.
May is traditionally a strong month for the auto industry. This year's calendar, with five weekends, gave it an extra boost. Sales were particularly strong the last weekend of the month, automakers said.
Analysts were expecting sales to rise 7 percent to 8 percent to 1.56 million in May, helping erase doubts about the strength of the industry. January and February sales were weaker than expected as consumers spent more time shoveling snow than shopping.
"We're still recovering from the low first-quarter numbers that we saw," said Jeff Schuster, executive vice president of forecasting for LMC Automotive, an industry consulting firm. "It's the continued recovery in the summer selling season, kind of everything aligning in the month of May."
Schuster said last month's sales were strong even without big discounts by automakers. Car buying site TrueCar.com estimated incentives were flat from last May and up 4 percent from April to $2,677 per vehicle. TrueCar said Hyundai, Kia and Honda had the biggest increases in incentives in May. Chrysler, GM and Nissan offered fewer deals.
GM said May was its best month since August 2008. Sales of its GMC Yukon and Buick Encore SUVs more than doubled, and buyers snapped up the new Chevrolet Corvette. GMC Sierra pickup sales gained 14 percent, while Chevrolet Silverado sales rose 8 percent.