Fears that car buyers would stay away from dealerships in August never materialized.

Instead, Americans were lured by new models, cheaper financing and the need to replace aging cars.

As a result, August sales rose 7.5 percent compared with the same month last year, according to Autodata Corp.

Most major automakers reported healthy sales increases in August, led by Chrysler with a 31 percent jump.

Toyota and Honda saw double-digit declines as they continued to struggle with Japan earthquake-related car shortages.

Results were better than expected. Some analysts thought the volatile stock market and Hurricane Irene would hurt sales.

While it was easy for carmakers to do better than last year, which was the worst August for the industry since a double-dip recession in 1983, the results were also a sign that sales could pick up speed after a disappointing summer of little or no growth.

“Consumers are inching back into buying items and some big-ticket purchases,” said Paul Ballew, a former GM chief economist.

Because they have cut staff and factories since the recession, automakers are turning profits at the lower sales levels.

But they’re still hoping for a better autumn, as supplies of Japanese cars get back to normal and new cars such as the redesigned Toyota Camry go on sale.

Chrysler Group’s sales jump was due to strong demand for Jeeps and minivans.

General Motors Co.’s sales rose 18 percent, led by the Chevrolet Cruze small car, which accounted for one in every 10 GM vehicles sold. Buyers also went for the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain small crossovers.

New models also boosted Ford Motor Co.’s sales, which rose 11 percent on the strength of the Ford Explorer SUV and Ford Fiesta subcompact.

But Toyota Motor Corp.’s sales fell almost 13 percent, while Honda Motor Co.’s sales slid 24 percent. Dealers are still short on many top-selling models such as the Honda Civic.

Other automakers reporting Thursday:

Nissan said sales were up 19 percent on demand for the Altima midsize sedan as well as the newly redesigned Versa subcompact.

Hyundai Motor Co. said sales rose 9 percent. Sales of the new Accent small car were up 37 percent.

Kia Motors said sales were up 27 percent, on demand for the new Sorento crossover.