US January auto sales jump 17% on demand driven by consumers

By Mira Oberman, AFP

CHICAGO–In a further sign of the auto industry’s recovery, General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and Toyota posted double digit gains Tuesday in January U.S. auto sales. “January is a seasonally slow month, but we believe the industry turned in a healthy showing for the month with solid volume gains, reiterating the fourth quarter’s positive momentum,” said Efraim Levy, an analyst with Standard & Poor’s Equity Research. “Another positive we see from the reports of both companies is that sales are being driven by consumers, boding well for future demand, even as rental fleet sales declined for both Ford and GM.” Total industry sales rose 17 percent to 819,895 vehicles in January, according to Autodata. The seasonally adjusted annualized rose to 12.62 million vehicles from 12.55 in December. GM, the biggest U.S. automaker, said sales roared 22 percent higher to 178,896 vehicles in January, driven by sharply stronger demand for its cars and trucks. Its share of the key U.S. market rose 0.9 points to 21.8 percent, according to Autodata. That was much better than analysts at automotive website had forecast, an increase of 11 percent. “The gain was driven by solid retail sales which were 36 percent higher than a strong January a year ago,” said the company, which emerged from a government-financed restructuring under bankruptcy protection in 2009. “January reflects a solid start of the year for us, for the industry and for the overall U.S. economy,” Don Johnson, vice president of U.S. sales operations said in a conference call.

“The outlook as a result remains very optimistic.” Chrysler said sales jumped 23 percent to 70,118 vehicles in January, the 10th consecutive month of year-over-year sales increases, as its share grew 0.4 points to 8.6 percent. “We have set the foundation for a year of sales growth with our 16 all-new or significantly-revamped models for 2011,” said Fred Diaz, Chrysler’s top sales executive.