Automotive Industry and Jobs Returning
February Auto Sales Hit Fast Lane
February New-Vehicle Market Topped 15 Million Annual Pace, Best Since 2008
The U.S. auto industry, led by Chrysler Group LLC, reported vehicle sales accelerated in February to their fastest pace in four years, suggesting the U.S. economy is continuing to pick up steam and consumers are undaunted by rising gasoline prices.
The annualized pace of sales climbed last month to 15.1 million vehicles, according to Autodata Corp., a level the industry hasn’t seen since February 2008, before the start of the financial meltdown and subsequent recession. All told, auto makers sold 1,149,396 cars and light trucks last month, up 15.7% from a year ago, Autodata said.
Associated Press2012 Focus sedans at a Ford dealership in Littleton, Colo. last month.
Chrysler, which is majority-owned by Fiat SpA of Italy, reported its sales rose 40% in February to 133,521 vehicles. Its truck sales rose 21% from a year earlier, while car sales more than doubled.
Ford Motor Co. weighed in with a 14% rise, to 178,644 cars and light trucks, with its Ford brand recording a 14% jump and its Lincoln luxury brand a 16% increase. Sales of the Ford Focus compact doubled.
Sales at General Motors Co. increased 1%, to 209,306 vehicles. Deliveries of its Chevrolet brand rose 5.8%, helped by its Sonic and Cruze small cars. But GM also posted declines by its Buick and Cadillac divisions. GM said its inventory at U.S. dealers at month’s end stood at 667,096 units, up 7.7% from January.
Emboldened by the ongoing rebound in the U.S. economy and increasing access to loans, many consumers are now dumping their old cars and buying new ones. Record used car prices and higher fuel costs are also pushing shoppers to look for the latest in fuel-efficiency, which is found primarily on the new side of the dealership lot.
Dealers also reported they saw sales intensifying toward the end of the month suggesting the industry could score another robust month in March.
“Perhaps the most encouraging sign is that home builders are becoming more optimistic,” Don Johnson, vice president of sales operations for GM, said Thursday. “Housing starts were recently revised upward and that suggest that the end of housing price declines may finally occur this year. We don’t believe that short-term fluctuations in pump prices will curtail industry growth this year. That is because American consumers and the overall economic are in much better shape than they were a year ago.”
Nissan Motor Co., which has been affected less by last year’s production disruptions than Toyota Motor Corp. or Honda Motor Co. said its February U.S. sales increased 15.5%, to 106,731 vehicles.
Toyota, meanwhile, said its U.S. auto sales rose 12% in February as Camry and Prius models booked double-digit sales gains, though truck sales slipped. Toyota reported it sold 159,423 vehicles in the U.S. last month, up from 141,846 a year earlier and 18% above January’s total.
Honda’s U.S. vehicle sales rose 12% in February, led by strong Civic and CR-V sales. The Japanese auto maker reported it sold 110,157 vehicles in February, up from 98,059 a year earlier and 33% above January’s total. Its car sales were up 13%, while truck sales rose 11%.
Sales by South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co. rose 17% from a year ago, to 51,151 vehicles.
The sales gains showed Chrysler’s, Ford’s and GM’s moves in the past few years to offer stylish and fuel-efficient small cars are paying off. Efforts to equip their trucks with V6 engines also seem to have helped keep pickup sales climbing, even with many U.S. consumers paying $4 or more for a gallon of gas.
Four years ago, sales among the Detroit Three slumped as consumers, spooked by fuel prices above $4 a gallon, went looking for more fuel-efficient cars and trucks only to wind up buying from Japanese auto makers due to the lack of choices.
“Ford and GM started investing more significantly in smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles about five years ago,” said Jefferies & Co. analyst Peter Nesvold. “That foresight is starting to pay off, as the lineup of 30 miles per gallon vehicles has roughly doubled over that time frame.”
Gas prices rose by 20 cents a gallon compared with January, to an estimated $3.58 a gallon, although this week’s national average is now at $3.70 a gallon, said Ford economist Jenny Lin.