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U.S. auto sales climb 14 percent in January

Fri, 01 Feb 2013

UPDATED: U.S. auto sales, led Toyota Motor Corp. and the Detroit 3, rose 14 percent in January, giving the industry a bigger lift to begin 2013 than analysts expected.

"The sales pace we saw in the fourth quarter of last year rolled into January, exceeding our expectations for the industry," said Bill Fay, general manager of the Toyota Division.

The gains in January were widespread, with several automakers reporting robust sales of large pickups, small cars and crossovers.

Toyota, leading all automakers' increases, said its combined sales of Toyota, Scion and Lexus models jumped 27 percent. Toyota was helped by big gains for the Prius hybrid line, the new Avalon sedan, the Corolla, and a 26 percent advance in truck deliveries.

Lexus posted a 32 percent increase.

Ford said its U.S. sales rose 22 percent last month, with car volume advancing 34 percent and utility vehicle deliveries rising 23 percent. Ford's truck sales rose 11 percent.

The company said its U.S. retail sales, helped by new models such as the C-Max hybrid, rose 24 percent last month.

Sales at the Ford division jumped 23 percent, while Lincoln volume dropped 18 percent. It is Ford Motor Co.'s biggest gain in monthly sales since U.S. volume rose 40 percent in September 2010.

"Ford is off to a strong start this year, with Fusion and Escape delivering January sales records and F-Series seeing a particularly strong reception this early in the year," Ken Czubay, Ford's head of U.S. marketing, sales and service, said in a statement. "Our investment in fuel-efficient new vehicles--including EcoBoost engines and hybrid technology--continues to pay off."

Sales rose 16 percent last month at General Motors, with retail volume up 24 percent, the company said. It was GM's biggest monthly gain since June 2012.

All of GM's brands posted gains for the month, led by a 47 percent increase at Cadillac, a 32 percent rise at Buick and a 23 percent jump at GMC.

New models such as the Cadillac ATS, Chevrolet Sonic and Buick Verano helped GM's results.

Sales of GM's full-sized pickups rose 32 percent to 50,230 units, with inventories in line with the company's sales and production plans for 2013, the automaker said.

A 75 percent surge in sales of the Accord, redesigned for 2013, helped Honda Motor Co. post a 13 percent increase in January U.S. deliveries.

Nissan Motor Co. said sales rose 2 percent, with the Nissan brand up 2 percent and Infiniti deliveries advancing 5 percent. Sales of the redesigned Pathfinder SUV and Sentra small car were substantially higher, but demand for the all-new Altima slipped 4 percent.

Hyundai Motor America, citing improved availability of key models, said it set a January sales record of 43,713 units, up 2 percent.

Chrysler Group sales were led by Dodge, where volume rose 37 percent, and Fiat, with deliveries rising 31 percent.

Chrysler said its car sales, led by the Dodge Avenger and Dart, and the Fiat 500 line, rose 50 percent, while light-truck deliveries increased 3 percent. Sales of the Dart totaled 7,154, the car's best month since its June launch, Chrysler said.

Jeep sales dropped 4 percent. It was the fourth consecutive monthly sales decline for Jeep and reflects the discontinuation of the Liberty SUV.

Chrysler Group plans to boost production to 2.6 million vehicles in 2013, from 2.4 million last year and 2 million in 2011, said Scott Garberding, senior vice president of manufacturing for Chrysler Group.

"We're adding some capacity, but we're more heavily utilizing everywhere the capacity that we have," Garberding said today in an interview with Bloomberg Television. "Many of our factories in the U.S. today are in fact going at full speed. Our Jeep plants are saturated" aside from a Toledo factory that is revamping for a new product.

Redesigned models

Toyota, Ford and Honda are benefiting from the redesign of some of their best-selling models, notably the Honda Accord, Honda CR-V, Ford Fusion and Escape, Lexus ES sedan and Toyota Camry.

The U.S. auto market is expected to grow for a fourth consecutive year in 2013.

The average estimate of 18 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg is for 15.1 million light-vehicle sales this year, up from 14.5 million in 2012.

Replacement demand

Automakers are counting on pent-up demand, a steady recovery in the U.S. economy, new models, easing credit conditions and low interest rates to further drive sales this year.

"While the economic conditions continue to be somewhat uncertain, we expect Volkswagen to achieve continued growth and to outpace the industry this year," Jonathan Browning, CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, said in a statement.

The VW brand's U.S. sales rose 7 percent to 29,018 in January, its smallest gain since volume rose 2 percent in January 2011.

Porsche said it set a January sales record of 3,358 units, up 32 percent, with demand for the Cayenne crossover and 911 particularly strong.

"January's sales record bodes well for 2013," Detlev von Platen, CEO of Porsche Cars North America, said in a statement. "We'll continue with a robust product rollout during the rest of the year."

The biggest driver of U.S. sales this year will continue to be pent-up demand as U.S. consumers replace aging vehicles, Ford's Czubay said during a briefing with analysts and reporters.

The average car and light truck on U.S. roads is more than 11 years old, automotive consulting firm Polk says.

Leasing's role

January sales were also expected to get a lift as consumers replace models damaged or destroyed by superstorm Sandy.

Volvo, which depends on leasing, said its January sales rose 9 percent to 4,875 units.

About 2 million leases expire this year, says.

In 2009, with the U.S economy in a deep downturn, leases--which usually last for three years--dropped dramatically.

U.S. consumers entered into about half as many new-vehicle leases in 2009 compared with two years earlier. Leasing bounced back strongly the next year, and those leases are about to expire.

"We've had more consumers coming back into the market to buy, and they're getting financing," said Melinda Zabritski, a credit analyst at Experian Automotive. "We'll see returns similar to what we had pre-recession."

Brianna Valleskey contributed to this report

By David Phillips- Automotive News