Sales of the Lordstown-built Chevrolet Cruze in May dipped from the same month in 2011 but gained from April, General Motors Co. said Friday in reporting an 11 percent overall sales gain to to 245,256, its highest monthly sales since August 2009.
But concern is growing that sales could stumble in June as people weigh troubling headlines, like Friday's report that U.S. unemployment rose for the first time in 11 months.
GM said it delivered 19,613 Cruzes to dealers compared to 22,711 in a strong month a year ago and 18,205 this past April.
Year-to-date Cruze sales totaled 94,901 versus 98,076 for the same five months last year.
Lordstown built 26,305 Cruzes, second only to 26,505 in March. The plant has built 266,027 Cruzes since launching the 2012 model year last July.
Don Johnson, GM's sales vice president, said the company is "pretty pleased" with Cruze sales, especially in terms of controlling incentives and commanding a respectable price, even with the return of Japanese rivals following production outages last year from the March earthquake.
"Year-over-year, Cruze is pretty flat on incentives and has one of the highest" average transaction prices, he said in a conference call.
He noted rival compact cars have boosted incentives by about $1,000.
Johnson said Chevrolet's trio of smaller cars - subcompact Sonic, Cruze and the midsize Malibu - are drawing a 10.4 percent market share, which he said is "probably the highest for us forever."
He said the combined segment was under 10 percent market share last year and 7.5 percent in 2010.
Car sales stayed strong in May, even though confidence was wobbly and the stock market had its worst month in two years. But Jesse Toprak, vice president of market intelligence for the car buying site TrueCar.com, 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 increased 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.
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.
Among the reasons car buyers put aside worrisome economic news:
There's pent-up demand. The average truck on the road is a record 10.4 years old and the average car is 11.1. GM expects pent-up demand from the recession to boost sales into next year as long as the economy keeps growing.
Carmakers are rolling out new models faster than ever before. New models usually fuel demand, even in a weak economy.