By Bernie Woodall and Ben Klayman
DETROIT (Reuters) - The U.S. auto industry remained on track for the best sales year in a decade as consumers bought cars and trucks in May at the fastest pace in almost a decade.
Sales of pickup trucks and SUVs again led the way, which bodes well for the profit margins of the major automakers.
General Motors Co forecast industry U.S. sales to finish May at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 17.6 million vehicles, the strongest pace since January 2006.
GM sales rose 3 percent in May, while Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' increased 4 percent.
Ford Motor Co sales fell 1 percent as its F-Series pickup trucks declined 10 percent. Its primary model, the F-150 pickup truck, remained in high demand and the company said it is reducing downtime at two plants this summer as it ramps up production of a new aluminum version.
For the second year in a row, May auto sales were boosted as more consumers returned to showrooms after a harsh winter kept them away, a GM spokesman said. Auto sales are viewed each month as an early snapshot of U.S. consumer spending.
GM said its average sale prices in May rose $550 to about $34,000 per vehicle.
Wall Street analysts surveyed by Reuters expected a 1 percent fall-off in May U.S. auto sales.
GM sales reached 293,097 vehicles as all pickups and its Chevrolet Equinox crossover rose 30 percent.
Fiat Chrysler's U.S. sales hit 202,227 in May, the first time above 200,000 in any month since March 2007.
Chrysler brand sales jumped 32 percent, led by a whopping 537 percent increase in sales of the Chrysler 200 mid-sized sedan, to 20,007 vehicles.
FCA's Jeep sports utilities and Ram truck brands continued to pace the company. U.S. Jeep sales jumped 13 percent and Ram trucks rose 8 percent. But the Fiat brand continued to flounder, with sales down 19 percent.
There was one fewer selling day in May compared with a year ago.
Analysts have pointed to easier consumer credit as one reason for increased sales since the recession. On Monday, Experian reported the average length of a new-vehicle loan in the United States in the first quarter rose to a record 67 months, up from 66 months a year earlier.
(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)