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DETROIT — The nation’s automakers continued to make gains in June, reporting the strongest performance in six years as the improving economy supported a continued uptick in sales.

Ford led the growth, reporting a 13 percent increase for its Ford and Lincoln brands. General Motors reported gains of 6 percent and the Chrysler Group, 8 percent.

Sales for Nissan rose 13 percent, giving the automaker its best June ever
in the United States. Toyota, the world’s largest carmaker, reported a sales gain of 9.8 percent. Volkswagen was the only major automaker to see a decline in June, of 3 percent.

Overall, June showed the best performance in at least six years for Ford and Chrysler and the best month for GM since September 2008, when Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy.

“We’re in an economy that gets a little stronger each and every month,” said Kurt McNeil, GM’s vice president of U.S. sales operations.

The gains were fueled by strong sales of pickups and SUVs, as well as compact cars.

GM said sales of its large pickups surged 29 percent. Sales for Ford’s F-Series trucks rose 24 percent, and Chrysler’s Ram truck sales rose 23 percent.

The swell in pickup sales has been helped by the recovering housing sector, as well as by lower interest rates, better fuel economy and an aging fleet, said Jenny Lin, Ford’s senior U.S. economist.

More than 4 million of the pickups on U.S. roads are more than 12 years old, so pent-up demand is bringing drivers into showrooms, Lin said.

The boom helps everyone, but especially the Detroit automakers, which sell the vast majority of trucks. And prices are rising as automakers add fancier features. Pickups sold for an average $40,361 in June, up 2 percent from last year, according to Kelley Blue Book.

At the same time, rates on auto loans remained near historic lows in June.

The rate on a four-year, new-car loan is averaging 2.7 percent, according to

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has pledged to keep short-term interest rates at record lows until the U.S. unemployment rate hits 6.5 percent, if not longer. The rate is 7.6 percent.

Auto loan rates are pegged to short-term rates, so car buyers should enjoy low financing terms for a while longer.

Small and compact cars produced strong sales for all three Detroit automakers. Sales of Ford’s small cars, including the Fiesta, Focus and Fusion, rose 39 percent for the automaker’s best June sales month in 13 years.

GM reported that sales of Chevrolet’s small cars rose 66 percent, helped by its Cruze and Sonic models.

Chrysler and Fiat brand sales rose 1 percent, but sales for the Chrysler 200 midsize sedan were up 14 percent.

Ford and Chrysler estimated a seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of 16 million vehicles for the industry, the highest in six years. GM estimated a rate of 15.8 million, the highest since November 2007.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.