The Lordstown-built Chevrolet Cruze posted its best-ever monthly sales in August, General Motors Co. reported Tuesday.
The record Cruze sales helped push the auto-maker's sales up 10.1 percent compared to a year ago, the company re-ported. Total August sales hit 240,520, compared to 218,479 a year ago.
The new Cruze sales record hit 25,975 in August, beating the old sales record of 25,160 set in April 2011.
The Lordstown plant produced 27,624 automobiles in August, according to numbers released Tuesday by the automaker.
"All four of our brands are building momentum behind new products so we're very well positioned as the economy continues to slowly improve," said Kurt McNeil, vice president of U.S. sales operations.
Auto industry senior analyst Jessica Caldwell of Edmunds.com saw higher gas prices helping to push the sales of compacts and subcompacts.
"Although trucks had a solid month, the small car performance is what's most impressive about GM's numbers today,'' Caldwell said. ''Cruze, Sonic, and Spark were all unknown nameplates just a few years ago, but now they almost equal the volume of Silverado, the core of Chevy's identity. Higher gas prices in August will lead to unseasonably strong small car performance across the industry."
Ford's sales also rose 13 percent and Chrysler's 14 percent.
Most automakers reported strong gains as Americans flowed into dealer showrooms, drawn by model-year closeouts, low-interest financing and appealing new models.
Pickups, traditionally the top sellers in the U.S., drove much of the business, thanks to a recovering housing market. Sales of Ford's F-Series trucks rose 19 percent, while Chrysler's Ram jumped by the same. GM's pickups, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, among the oldest trucks in the market, saw a 6-percent sales increase.
Asian companies and Germany's Volkswagen did well in car sales.
The overall increase was due mainly to pent-up demand as consumers and businesses were forced to replace aging cars and pickup trucks, said Yingzi Su, GM's senior economist. The average age of a vehicle on U.S. road is approaching 11 years.
"People have been holding off new purchases for such a long time, since 2008 to now," she said, adding that auto sales are seeing overall improvements even though the economy is growing slowly.
August sales could hit more than 1.2 million vehicles, up about 20 percent from a year earlier, analysts predict. The annual pace could reach 14.6 million units, among the best months of the year.
Toyota now has a full inventory of new cars at dealers and continued its recovery from bad sales last year. Sales grew almost 46 percent.
Honda, which like Toyota saw its factories hobbled by the earthquake in Japan last year, reported a 60 percent increase led by the Civic compact, CR-V small SUV and the Accord midsize sedan. Kia sales rose 21.5 percent from a year earlier, while Hyundai's rose only 4 percent over strong numbers from August 2011.
Volkswagen continued its staggering growth. Sales jumped 63 percent on strong demand for the Jetta and Passat sedans.
GM recovered from a bad July, with all four of its brands reporting increases. Chevy sales were up 11 percent, led by the Cruze compact. The Sonic subcompact, which had barely reached showrooms in August of last year, saw sales jump to more than 8,700. It likely will be the top-selling subcompact in the nation again in August.
GM also said it was helped by heavy advertising during the Olympics and a full month of a money-back guarantee program for Chevrolets.
Industry analysts say U.S. auto sales are likely to keep the economy going even as it struggles to grow. The economy expanded at a tepid 1.7 percent annual rate from April through June. On Friday, Chairman Ben Bernanke made clear that the Federal Reserve will do more to boost the economy because of high unemployment and a recovery that remains "far from satisfactory."