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Published: Friday, 3/2/2012

Auto sales up in Feb. despite high gas costs

Firms hit highest selling rate for new vehicles since 2008

BLADE STAFF AND NEWS SERVICES
Jeep brand sales rose 30 percent over 2011. Wrangler sales were up 22 percent for 22 straight months of year-over-year sales growth. Jeep brand sales rose 30 percent over 2011. Wrangler sales were up 22 percent for 22 straight months of year-over-year sales growth.
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DETROIT -- Auto sales rose substantially in February despite surging gasoline prices, carmakers and analysts said Thursday.

Analysts said the seasonally adjusted selling rate for new vehicles, a closely watched indication of the auto industry's health, was about 15 million last month, the highest level since February, 2008. That compares with 13.4 million a year ago and 9.1 million three years ago, in the worst of the recession.

Chrysler Group said its sales were up 40 percent from February, 2011, while Ford Motor Co. reported a 14 percent gain.

General Motors said its sales increased 1 percent from a year ago, when it had an especially strong month as a result of big discounts.

Toyota and Honda each posted 12 percent gains, while Nissan's sales rose 16 percent.

Chrysler said it had its best February sales since 2008, posting a ninth consecutive month in which sales grew at least 20 percent over the year prior.

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 Wrangler has now posted year-over-year sales growth in 22 consecutive months.

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

Chrysler said passenger-car sales more than doubled, helped in part by a Super Bowl ad featuring actor Clint Eastwood.

Ford said sales of its compact car, the Focus, jumped 115 percent.

"Our product portfolio now contains some of the most fuel-efficient vehicles in our company's history," Reid Bigland, Chrysler's head of U.S. sales, said in a statement.

"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," Mr. Bigland said.



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