US auto sales continued to accelerate, posting the best July performance since 2006 Thursday as consumers flocked to dealerships to replace ageing vehicles with new models at low interest rates.
"Solid industry sales in July point to a stable market indicating a recovering economy," said Bill Fay, group vice president at Toyota. "Consumer confidence also maintained elevated levels as evidenced by strong retail sales."
Total industry sales rose 14 percent from results in July 2012, according to Autodata.
The sales came in at an adjusted, annualized rate of 15.7 million units, down slightly from the 16 million posted in June but up sharply from the 14.1 million set a year ago.
It's a stunning recovery from a deep and painful downturn which pushed General Motors and Chrysler into bankruptcy as the sales pace fell as low as 9.1 million in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
"The industry continues to be driven by strong demand for full-size pickups and small (crossovers), although small cars have cropped up as another segment to watch due to the impact of rising summer gas prices," said Alec Gutierrez, an auto analyst with Kelley Blue Book.
"With the economy continuing its slow and steady recovery and low lease opportunities, rock bottom interest rates, and cash rebates all readily available, all signs point to continued solid growth through the second half of the year."
Toyota's sales rose 17 percent to 193,394 vehicles in July, the Japanese automaker said.
GM's sales jumped 16 percent in July to 234,071 vehicles.
"For GM, July was the most well-balanced month of the year from a retail sales standpoint: trucks were hot, but so were small cars and family vehicles," GM sales chief Kurt McNeil said.
"Our experience shows that the difference between good sales and great sales in a slow-growth economy is how many new products you have to offer, and we are starting to hit our sweet spot."
Chrysler posted its 40th consecutive month of gains as sales rose 11 percent to 140,102 vehicles, its best July performance in seven years.
"We continue to see strong retail sales, particularly with our pickup trucks and SUVs," Chrysler sales chief Reid Bigland said.
Ford's sales rose 11 percent to 193,715 vehicles for its best July since 2006.
"Our small cars and hybrids continue to attract new customers to Ford and away from our competitors, thanks to the vehicles' combination of styling, technology, fuel economy and performance," Ford sales chief Ken Czubay said.
Honda's sales jumped 21 percent to 126,289 units while Nissan's sales grew 11 percent to 109,041.
Korean automaker Hyundai's sales grew by a more modest six percent to 66,005 while its sister company Kia saw sales grow just two percent to 49,004.
Volkswagen, which is in the midst of a major push to expand its US market share, saw sales fall three percent in July to 35,779 vehicles.
Mercedes-Benz saw sales jump 19 percent to 25,564 while rival German luxury brand BMW's sales grew 13 percent to 24,043.