DETROIT -- Brisk demand for SUVs and pickup trucks -- and a strong Memorial Day weekend -- was expected to push U.S. auto sales to a seven-year high in May.
General Motors, in the throes of a recall crisis, surprised with a 13 percent gain over last May. 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.
Nissan's U.S. sales jumped 19 percent over last May on strong demand for new vehicles, including the Rogue SUV.
Chrysler's U.S. sales jumped 17 percent, boosted by strong demand for the new Jeep Cherokee small SUV. Chrysler said its Jeep brand sales jumped 58 percent and set an all-time monthly sales record, with 70,203 vehicles sold in May.
Ford's sales rose 3 percent. The company said it was a record month for the Fusion sedan and Escape SUV, which both topped 30,000 sales. Lincoln luxury brand sales were also up 21 percent as the new MKC small SUV went on sale.
But Ford's truck sales dropped 4 percent as the automaker cut back on incentives. Ford said it's trying to manage pickup truck inventories in preparation for plant shutdowns to change over to its new F-150 pickup, which is due out later this year.
"If we really wanted to, we could sell more trucks in the near term, but we've got to manage this thing through," said Joe Hinrichs, Ford's Americas chief.
Investors celebrated the better-than-expected results in May. Ford's shares were up 1.5 percent to $16.68 in morning trading, while GM's shares rose 1 percent to $35.21.
Other automakers are set to report sales later Tuesday.
Analysts expect 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."
May traditionally is among the best sales months every year, and Schuster said last month's sales were strong even without big discounts by automakers.
Auto sales have led the uneven U.S. economic recovery for the last few years, and Schuster expects that to continue. But the pace is expected to slow as annual sales top a natural peak of around 16 million. U.S. auto sales totaled 15.6 million in 2013, up from 10.4 million at the depths of the recession in 2009.