Automakers posted strong sales gains in the United States in May even as the economy darkened. However, the demand for new vehicles came in weaker than expected in May, driven by disappointing results from General Motors, Toyota and Chrysler.

Lower gas prices also might have enticed some buyers. Gasoline has dropped 32 cents to an average of $3.62 a gallon since peaking at $3.94 April 6. Some experts say it could fall as low as $3.40 between now and Labor Day.

Volkswagen reported 38,657 units sold in May, a 28.4% increase over the same period last year.
Chrysler posted sales of 150,041 units, a 30% increase from May last year, driven by gains in the Fiat brand of 128% year over year.

Sales of Ford vehicles grew 13% over last year, with 216,267 vehicles sold.

General Motors (GM) said sales climbed 11%. America’s top-selling carmaker reported higher sales across all high volume segments, including small and compact cars, crossover vehicles and pick-up trucks.

Nissan climbed 21%. Toyota Motor(TM) sales surged 87% from a year ago, when its production was severely restrained by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Carmakers shrugged off the weak employment data released on Friday, saying that demand was being driven by consumers’ desire to trade in ageing cars after postponing purchases during the downturn.
May’s sales pace is so strong that forecasting firm LMC Automotive raised its 2012 forecast to 14.5 million, up from 14.3 million.

That pace, while above the dismal sales of 10.4 million in 2009, remains below what would be normal in a healthy economy, said Jeff Schuster, LMC’s senior vice president of forecasting.



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