Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCAU.N)(FCHA.MI) on Tuesday led off major automakers reporting U.S. August sales, posting a stronger-than-expected rise of 2 percent, boosted by SUV and pickup truck sales.

FCA predicted that the auto industry in August will continue its recent trend of robust sales that are stronger than the overall U.S. economy, and will outstrip an estimate of 17.3 million vehicles for the industry on an annualized rate found by a Thomson Reuters poll of 47 economists.

FCA sales were led by Jeep SUV, with a rise of 18 percent from year-ago levels while Ram pickup truck sales gained 4 percent and Chrysler 200 sedan purchases jumped 30 percent, overcoming the 15 percent drop in Dodge brand sales, FCA said.

The Italian-American automaker kept alive its streak of consecutive months of topping year-ago sales figures - which now stands at 65.

Half of the eight industry analysts polled by Reuters expected a decline in FCA's August sales, based on a quirk in the calendar that put results over the U.S. Labor Day holiday weekend into the September results.

Although Labor Day is always in September, the U.S. auto industry usually counts the sales in August results.

Heading into Tuesday, many analysts and economists had predicted a decline in U.S. auto sales in August because of the calendar quirk.

For instance, industry analysts at Kelley Blue Book predicted a 5.3 percent sales fall for General Motors Co (GM.N) while Edmunds.com showed GM sales essentially flat at up 0.3 percent. KBB forecast Ford Motor Co (F.N) sales up 0.7 percent while Edmunds predicted Ford up 0.3 percent. 

By Bernie Woodall - Reuters (Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)