At Kia, February sales of 41,505 were below year-ago's 45,038 with Optima the only vehicle to see a sales increase. The falloff follows record sales and market share in 2012. But Kia has a busy year ahead with seven new vehicles to launch including three world introductions planned for the New York auto show later this month.
Generally, high gas prices empower small vehicle sales. But GM's McNeil said the company believes gas prices will fall as temporary refinery troubles subside.
Economists are watching closely to see whether consumers halt spending because of automatic spending cuts triggered by Washington's sequestration crisis.
But Ford Chief Economist Ellen Hughes-Cromwick said the effect of a 2% increase in payroll taxes and sequestration may be more than offset by other economic factors. Those include higher consumer confidence, low interest rates and plenty of available financing, strong housing starts and aging vehicles that people need to replace.
Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne told reporters Thursday in Kokomo, Ind., that he's not worried about sequestration.
"I have the ultimate faith in the ability of the political system to resolve the issue," Marchionne said. "I understand that a lot of this is part of a ritual that needs to be concluded. For me to express a view beyond that ritual would be nonsensical."
Analysts are predicting that overall industry sales increased somewhere between 2.4% and 5.7% in February, buoyed by an increased demand for pickups and the strength of the U.S. economy.
Chrysler's results were boosted by the performance of its Dodge brand, which reported a 30% sales gain and sold 7,720 Dart compact cars -- the most since it was launched last summer. However, Jeep brand sales fell 16%, Chrysler brand sales fell 7%. Sales for both the Ram and Fiat brands increased 2%.
Ford's luxury Lincoln brand, which the company is trying to revive, continues to struggle, with sales down 29%. The new MKZ is undergoing a slow ramp-up with full inventories to dealers still a month away.
To sustain momentum, the automaker announced it will increase overall vehicle production in the second quarter by 800,000 vehicles or 9% more than a year ago.
All four of GM's brands achieved sales increases for the month, with Chevrolet up 5%, Cadillac up 20%, Buick up 15% and GMC up 10%.
But sales of GM's passenger cars fell 4% as the company struggles with what executives have described as the oldest vehicle portfolio in the industry.
Still, GM's freshest products came on strong. The company sold 3,382 units of the Cadillac ATS in the month after the vehicle's victory in the North American Car of the Year competition, outpacing the Cadillac CTS at 2,566 units. GM plans to unveil a redesigned version of the CTS later this month.
"All signs of the industry's health are positive right now," John Humphrey, senior vice president of the global automotive practice at J.D. Power and Associates said in a recent report. "Average transaction prices are up, incentives are stable, leasing is at a healthy level and newly redesigned models continue to make an impact on the marketplace."
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