(Adds annualized selling rate result of 17.8 million vehicles)
By Bernie Woodall
DETROIT, Sept 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. auto industry powered ahead in August, topping sales estimates and shrugging off gyrating stock markets as consumers continued to show their penchant for pickup trucks and SUVs.
U.S. auto sales were the strongest in any month since July 2005. The annualized selling rate in August was 17.8 million vehicles, according to Autodata Corp, well above expectations of 17.3 million.
The six largest automakers in the U.S. market all beat the sales forecasts of industry analysts, with Toyota, Honda, Nissan and GM reporting declines that were not as severe as expected.
Roller-coaster stock markets appeared to have no major impact on auto purchases, which each month are an early indicator of consumer spending.
“All of the economic fundamentals that we look at, including job growth, disposable income and fuel prices, are in good shape and that should keep sales strong,” said Kurt McNeil, head of U.S. sales for General Motors Co.
Bill Fay, head of Toyota brand sales in the U.S. market, pointed out that U.S. consumer confidence in August was at its highest since January.
GM, the No. 1 automaker in the U.S. market, reported that sales dropped 0.7 percent.
Ford Motor Co, the No. 2 U.S. automaker by vehicle sales, showed a gain of 5 percent, easily outdistancing expectations.
Toyota Motor Corp , No. 3 in U.S. sales, reported an 8.8 percent decline in August.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV showed a rise of 2 percent, boosted by Jeep SUVs. Analysts had been looking for a decline in FCA sales.
Honda Motor Co reported a drop of 7 percent and Nissan Motor Co a 1 percent dip.
August industry sales were expected to be down largely based on a quirk in the calendar that put results over the U.S. Labor Day holiday weekend into September sales.
Although Labor Day is always in September, the U.S. auto industry usually counts the sales in August results.
Ford said sales of its F-Series pickup trucks topped 70,000 for the first time this year - at 71,332, up 4.7 percent.
Mark LeNeve, head of Ford’s U.S. sales, said Ford SUV and truck sales both rose about 12 percent while car sedan sales fell 7 percent.
GM’s Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks together outsold Ford’s F-Series, at more than 76,000. Silverado sales rose 11.7 percent and Sierra sales were up 7 percent.
Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe