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Huge sales gains in United States

Published:Sunday | February 3, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Toyota remained on top in the United States for January 2013. - Contributed


Most of the big car companies are reporting double-digit gains for January, as last year's momentum in United States (US) auto sales continues into 2013.

Sales at Toyota rose 27 per cent and they jumped 22 per cent at Ford. GM and Chrysler each reported 16 per cent gains compared with a year earlier. It was Chrysler's best January in five years.

But Volkswagen, which reported a 31 per cent increase in 2012, saw sales slow a bit, growing only seven per cent.

The figures so far indicate that Americans bought new vehicles at a strong pace last month, as the industry remains a bright spot in a tepid US economic recovery.

"The sales pace we saw in the fourth quarter of last year rolled into January, exceeding our expectations for the industry," Bill Fay, Toyota Division group vice-president, said in a statement.

Sales estimates

Chrysler estimates that total US industry sales hit an annual rate of 15.5 million in January. If that holds for the rest of the year, automakers will sell one million more vehicles than in 2012, when sales rose 13 per cent.

Analysts are expecting sales for all of 2013 to reach 15 million to 15.5 million. Although still far from the recent peak of about 17 million in 2005, the industry could sell a whopping five million more cars and trucks than it did in 2009, the worst year in at least three decades.

At Ford, the growth was led by the Fusion midsize car, which saw a 65 per cent increase. Explorer SUV sales rose 46 per cent. Sales of the F-Series pickup truck, the top-selling vehicle in the US, rose 22 per cent.

GM's Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra each saw increases of over 30 per cent, while sales of the Ram pickup, Chrysler's top-selling vehicle, rose 14 per cent from a year earlier. Those gains give a strong indication that businesses are replacing aging pickup trucks that they kept through the Great Recession.

Record January

Even though VW's growth slowed, last month was still the company's best January in the US since 1974. Sales of the Passat midsize sedan rose 40 per cent to 8,856 units.

January is normally a lacklustre month for sales, as people avoid going out in winter weather across much of the country. But they were apparently willing to venture to showrooms this year. Perhaps the stock market gave them incentive - the Standard & Poor's 500 index had its strongest January since 1997.

"(January) was like a sprinter out of the starting blocks," said Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation Inc, the country's largest auto dealership chain.

Analysts say sales for the month should exceed one million vehicles and are likely to be eight per cent to 15 per cent higher than a year earlier.

Jackson, whose chain reported record fourth-quarter earnings per share on Thursday, feared a hangover last month from the strong finish to 2012. But he said people who focused on paying down debt the past few years are now making big-ticket purchases at a robust pace.

Consumers are saying: "I'm moving ahead with my life. I'm getting a new vehicle," Jackson said.