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Automotive

U.S. auto sales jump in February despite gas spike

GM sales up 1.1%, confounding analyst expectations of a decline

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A line of 2012 Focus cars are for sale at a Ford dealership in the south Denver suburb of Littleton, Colo.

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DETROIT — Chrysler Group LLC had its best February sales since 2008, posting a ninth consecutive month in which sales grew at least 20 percent over the year prior, the automaker announced Thursday.

Across all brands, Chrysler sold 133,521 vehicles — 40 percent more than last February.

Jeep brand sales rose 30 percent over 2011, with Wrangler sales up 22 percent and Liberty sales up 25 percent.

The Wranger has now posted year-over-year sales grow in 22 consecutive months.

The Chrysler nameplate had the biggest gain, up 114 percent over 2011.

Chrysler wasn’t the only company to have a good February.

Volkswagen said its U.S. sales rose 42 percent to nearly 31,000, led by the redesigned Passat midsize sedan.

Nissan sales were up 15.5 percent.

Ford Motor Co. says its U.S. sales rose 14 percent in February thanks to big demand for its Focus compact car. Focus sales more than doubled over last February to 23,350. It was the best February for the Focus in 12 years.

General Motors says its U.S. sales rose 1 percent last month, led by its small cars. Analysts had expected the company to post lower sales compared with last February, when it offered big discounts.

JP Morgan analyst Himanshu Patel said the sales rate was on track for 14.5 million vehicles in February, marking the best month for the industry in nearly four years.

The strong showing came even as gasoline prices shot up last month, prompting American consumers to seek out smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. Sales of Ford’s Focus small car more than doubled last month.

“A few years ago, higher fuel prices were a major threat to our total vehicle sales whereas today, those higher prices have become far less of an issue,” Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales for Chrysler, said in a statement.

U.S. auto sales have benefited in recent months from consumers’ need to replace aging vehicles, which many delayed during the depths of the economic downturn. Higher consumer confidence and the greater availability of credit have also helped sales.

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