The Detroit Three's U.S. sales beat analysts' expectations for February,
bolstering their predictions that overall industry results will do the same.
Ford's sales got a 14.4 percent lift, blowing past the 9.4 percent gain forecast by analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News. Despite rising gas prices, Ford trucks sustained the biggest increase, up 20.6 percent from February 2011. Fuel-efficient Ecoboost engines, which combine direct-injection with turbocharging, made up 43 percent of F-150's sold to individual customers. After several months of year-over-year declines, sales of the Ford Focus more than doubled.
Chrysler's sales increased 40 percent last month, obliterating the 26 percent sales gain estimate compiled by Bloomberg. Sales of the Chrysler 300 increased 480 percent from February 2011, while the smaller Chrysler 200 sustained a 315 percent sales boost. Jeep sales grew 30 percent, Dodge reported a 27 percent lift, and Ram truck sales increased 15 percent.
All three metro Detroit automakers forecast that U.S. sales could reach a seasonally adjusted annual rate of almost 15 million light vehicles, which would be the highest pace since the crash of 2008. Analysts had told Bloomberg sales would match January's pace of 14.2 million, as U.S. auto sales continue their drawn-out recovery from the lows of early 2009, when seasonally adjusted demand fell to about 9 million. Sales rates routinely landed in the 16-million range before the crash.
"We are in the recovery mode," said Jenny Lin, Ford's senior U.S. economist. "Certainly if the gas prices continue going up like this, people may cut some discretionary spending. However, with the economy improving and the employment situation improving, people need new cars, going back to work. So I think that will be a positive offset."
Other automakers will report February sales throughout the day, against the backdrop of rising fuel prices. A gallon of regular unleaded gasoline cost an average of $3.74 this morning, up 30 cents from the beginning of February, according to AAA.
But gas prices haven't hurt automakers' sales results so far. Even GM reported a year-over-year sales increase. The Detroit automaker's sales grew 1.1 percent compared with February 2011. Analysts had predicted a sales decline, since GM had goosed sales last year with above-average incentives. Chevrolet's 5.8 percent gain powered the overall increase, led by a 10.1 percent gain from the Cruze compact, a 38.6 percent increase from the Suburban SUV and a 30.7 percent gain for the Express full-size van.
GM's incentives fell 3.5 percentage points from a year earlier, to 9.5 percent of the average price paid by a customer. But sales to businesses grew 35%.
Some of GM's other brands did suffer from the incentives decline. Cadillac sustained a 27 percent sales decline compared with last year's record February, as dealers wait for the XTS and ATS sedans that launch this year. Buick's sales fell 11.3 percent. GMC was flat.
Nissan's sales increased 15.5 percent, beating analysts' expectations of a 6.1 percent gain, according to Bloomberg. The automaker sold 106,731 cars and trucks for the month, setting a new company record for February U.S. sales. Sales for the Nissan brand gained 17.1 percent while sales for the company's Infiniti brand increased 1 percent.
Volkswagen's sales grew 42.5 percent last month.
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