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Ford, GM, Toyota sales take big hit in January

Chrysler, Nissan dealers buck cold-weather trend


Chrysler, buoyed by a full lineup that now includes the Toledo-built Cherokee, says U.S. sales rose 8 percent in a frigid January that chilled sales at most dealerships.


DETROIT — Auto sales slid 3 percent in January as bouts of snow, ice, and frigid temperatures in much of the country kept buyers snug in their homes instead of venturing out to car dealers.

People bought just over 1 million vehicles last month in the United States, about 32,000 fewer than a year ago. It was the first year-over-year monthly sales drop since August, 2010, according to Ward’s Automotive — but one that analysts said should be short-lived.

General Motors, Toyota, and Ford — the top-selling companies in the United States — all reported falling sales due in large part to the weather, as did Volkswagen. But Chrysler, Honda, Nissan, Subaru, and Hyundai dealers were happy. Sales were up for all five brands.

The industry saw double-digit gains in the West, where the weather was good. But there were big declines in other regions hit by storms.

Dealers saw the impact firsthand.

“When you go three days when no one comes on the lot, it’s a little tough to be up to average,” said Timothy Detweiler, dealer principal of a Buick-GMC dealer in Masontown, Pa., about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh. Temperatures there were near or below zero for several straight days.

GM said its sales dropped 12 percent compared with the same month a year earlier, while Ford dropped 7.5 percent and Toyota declined 7 percent. Volkswagen slumped 19 percent. But Chrysler’s sales advanced 8 percent, while Nissan’s rose nearly 12 percent. Subaru saw a 19 percent increase, Honda went up 2 percent and Hyundai was up 1 percent.

With wave after wave of storms hitting much of the country, consumers weren’t in the mood to go car shopping, said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of auto sales forecasting for LMC Automotive, a consulting firm.

“Right now we’re looking at this as an anomaly and a temporary setback because of external factors,” Mr. Schuster said.

Chrysler, Nissan, and Subaru were boosted by new vehicles. Chrysler notched its best January in six years, with Jeep brand sales up 38 percent over last year, thanks to a full lineup that now includes the Toledo-built Cherokee.

Sales of the new Cherokee continued to be strong in January, with U.S. dealers recording 10,505 sales for the month. The company has sold 36,291 Cherokees since the model went on sale in late October.

Sergio Marchionne, the chief executive officer of Fiat and Chrysler, said last week on a call with analysts that the company has an “incredibly strong order book” for the Cherokee, though he declined to say what the automaker was expecting from the Jeep in terms of U.S. sales.

Jeep dealers also sold 9,553 Wranglers last month, an 8 percent increase from 2013 and a record for the month of January. It’s the fourth straight month in which the Toledo-built Wrangler has set a new monthly sales record.

Nissan sales were led by the redesigned Rogue small crossover SUV with sales up 55 percent. And sales of Subaru’s redesigned Forester SUV jumped 64 percent over last January.

Most automakers with sales declines blamed the weather.

At GM, sales of most high-volume models were down. Sales of the Chevy Silverado pickup, GM’s top-selling vehicle, shrank more than 18 percent. At Ford, sales of the Focus small car plunged 26 percent from last January, while F-Series pickup sales were flat. Ford’s Lincoln luxury brand was the bright spot, with a 43 percent increase.

Sales of Toyota’s Camry, the top-selling car in the United States, plunged almost 27 percent. But Bill Fay, head of the Toyota Division in the United States, said Camry sales in January, 2013, were boosted by a high number of so-called fleet sales that had been delayed due to Superstorm Sandy.

Mr. Detweiler, the Pennsylvania auto dealer, is hoping that those who didn’t leave their homes during the bad weather will venture out to buy in February.

“Historically, a lot of times when they’re stuck in the house, they end up researching cars,” he said. “Sometimes we have a good month the next month because of really bad weather.”

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