"We should have had a disastrous new vehicle sales month, but consumers are still interested in the new products," said Jesse Toprak, vice president of market intelligence for the car buying site TrueCar.com. "This was an anomaly."
Toprak expects sales to slow somewhat this summer before picking up again at the end of the year as the economy improves and the presidential election ends political uncertainty.
May sales totaled 1.3 million cars and trucks, up 26 percent from the same month a year earlier. It was the best May for the industry since 2008.
Toyota led sales increases with an 87 percent rise from a year earlier, while Honda saw a 48-percent jump. In May 2011, both companies ran short of cars and trucks after the earthquake in Japan crippled their factories. But their showrooms are full again, and they're rapidly gaining back the market share that they lost to competitors such as Hyundai and GM.
Sales of the Toyota Prius hybrid tripled from a year ago, while Honda Civic sales were up 80 percent.
Chrysler reported a 30 percent increase, followed by Volkswagen at 28 percent and Nissan at 21 percent. Ford and Hyundai both saw gains of 13 percent. General Motors Co. was up 11 percent.