UPDATE 5-Carmakers report best U.S. August since 2003
(Adds final sales figures, paragraph 6)
By Bernie Woodall and Ben Klayman
DETROIT, Sept 3 (Reuters) - U.S. August auto sales were the highest for that month in more than a decade, thanks in part to heavy discounting by the manufacturers and a strong Labor Day weekend close, with the industry selling at an annualized pace not seen since early 2006.
All the major manufacturers except General Motors Co reported year-to-year increases, handily topping analysts' expectations.
August sales rose 5.4 percent from a year ago to 1,583,476 vehicles, according to a Reuters analysis. It is the highest total for the month since the industry sold 1.63 million in August 2003.
GM held on to the top spot, while Toyota Motor Corp edged Ford Motor Co for the second straight month.
The lowest gasoline prices in four years helped GM and Chrysler Group, a unit of Fiat SpA, achieve double-digit gains in sales of full-size pickups, which provide the bulk of profit. But sales of Ford's industry-leading F-Series pickups fell as the automaker began the changeover to an all-new aluminum-bodied version.
The annualized sales rate for the month finished at 17.53 million vehicles, according to research firm Autodata. That was well above the 16.6 million forecast from analysts polled by Thomson Reuters and the highest rate since 17.6 million in January 2006.
Auto sales are an early indicator of consumer demand as the industry accounts for one-fifth of all U.S. retail spending. Continued...