By Bernie Woodall and Deepa Seetharaman
DETROIT (Reuters) - Chrysler Group LLC reported an 11 percent rise in May auto sales on Monday, easily beating analysts' expectations, on strong demand for pickup trucks.
Chrysler is the first automaker in the U.S. market to report May sales. Major manufacturers will report them through Monday afternoon.
After disappointing results in April, analysts expect a 6 percent rise in overall U.S. auto sales for May from a year earlier, helped by a recovering housing market and strong consumer spending.
Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters forecast May U.S. sales of 15.1 million vehicles on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis.
Sales of Chrysler's Ram pickup truck - by far the company's best-selling vehicle - rose 22 percent. Generally, automakers generate more profit per vehicle on pickup trucks than the rest of their lineups.
Analysts also expect strong pickup truck sales for U.S. automakers General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co .
It was the 38th consecutive year-on-year monthly sales gain for Chrysler, which is majority owned by Italy's Fiat .
Sales of the Dodge Dart, which Chrysler is counting on to help it expand its lineup into smaller, fuel-efficient cars, fell 8 percent from April, to 7,448 vehicles. It was the first month-to-month sales decline for the Dart in a half-year.
Analyst Jim Hall of 2953 Analytics said the company needed to increase consumer awareness that the Dart is a viable small car after it spent years producing the poor-quality Caliber.
"They launched the Dart without saying it was a small car," Hall said. "They sold the image but not the car."
Hall said Dart sales might rise now that the company is advertising its price. Chrysler introduced the car in June 2012.
Only one of seven analysts who forecast Chrysler May U.S. sales expected an increase as high as 11 percent, and two forecast a drop for the suburban Detroit company. On average, they expected a sales rise of 6 percent for Chrysler.
Chrysler's sales also rose 11 percent in April.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Lisa Von Ahn)