160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! DETROIT – After a dismal start to summer, August looked a little brighter for the auto industry despite continuing concern over high gas prices and turbulence in the housing and financial markets. U.S. sales were flat compared with last August, but that was better than the 12 percent decline the industry saw in July. The annualized sales rate for August was 16.3 million vehicles, the first time that number topped 16 million vehicles since May, according to Autodata Corp. The rate shows what sales would be if they continued at the same pace for the full year. “It’s a solid month against a subpar industry,” Paul Ballew, General Motors Corp.’s top sales analyst, told investors and reporters in a conference call. Still, Ballew said the industry is being hit by economic uncertainty. High gasoline prices and declining home values have caused people to delay auto purchases or exit the market altogether, he said. Lending standards for auto customers also may be tightening, although there’s little evidence of that so far, he said. That uncertainty could give the companies a stronger argument in contract talks with the United Auto Workers to cut what domestic automakers say is about a $25-per-hour labor-cost gap with its main Japanese competitors. Contracts between the UAW and Ford Motor Co., GM and Chrysler LLC expire Sept. 14. The domestic automakers, who saw their U.S. market share dip below 50 percent for the first time in history in July, clawed their way back up to 51 percent of the market in August, according to Autodata. GM, the world’s biggest automaker, surprised analysts by posting a 6 percent increase in sales, led by a 16.6 percent increase in truck sales. Part of that was due to a 24 percent increase in sales to rental car companies, which GM and other U.S. automakers have been trying to cut back on because they hurt brand image and resale values. Ballew said August was a one-time increase and GM will reduce sales to rental fleets through the rest of the year. Toyota Motor Corp. beat out Ford Motor Co. in sales for the month and overtook Ford for the first eight months of the year. The Japanese automaker sold 1.788 million vehicles during the January-August period compared with 1.784 million at Ford. Many analysts have predicted that Toyota will overtake Ford for the No. 2 slot for the full year in 2007. Ford’s top sales analyst, George Pipas, wouldn’t comment on Toyota. Bob Carter, Toyota’s general manager for U.S. sales, said surpassing Ford isn’t part of the company’s internal plan.