The New Year Begins with Stronger-than-Expected U.S. Auto Sales

1Salesperson and Couple at DealershipJanuary new-vehicle sales in the U.S. market were stronger than expected. Sales climbed nearly 10% due to consumers continuing to trade in their current vehicles (vehicle age in the United States averages 11 years) for new ones or replacing vehicles damaged or totaled during last October’s East Coast Sandy superstorm.

Easier credit and discounts in some segments also made new-vehicle purchases and leases more viable in January. Compacts were still popular, partly due to gas prices beginning to rise again*, and there appears to be a revival in the light-truck segment due to the start of a comeback in the housing industry.

Detroit Three Achieve Double-Digit Sales Gains

It was a good month for Michigan. All three Detroit-based manufacturers—Fiat-Chrysler Group, Ford Motor Co., and General Motors Co.—reported that new-vehicle sales were up in double digits from January 2012.

2013 Lincoln MKZFord’s car sales rose by nearly one-third from a year ago, and its crossover and F-Series large pickup sales also improved. January also saw gains for the new Fusion midsize sedan and the Escape compact CUV. However, Ford’s Lincoln luxury brand posted a decline from a year ago, partly due to inventory shortages of its newly-launched 2013 MKZ sedan.

GM’s four brands sold more cars and light trucks in January than they did a year ago. Cadillac and Buick led gains for the largest U.S. automaker, with strength from the new Cadillac ATS and Buick Verano. Strong sales of the Cruze compact and Equinox compact CUV helped Chevrolet post a single-digit increase from a year ago. Sales of GM’s 2013 pickups also were up in double digits right before the 2014 redesigned models are introduced.

All-new 2013 Dodge DartFiat-Chrysler Group said its Dodge brand posted the best year-over-year increases. The Dodge Dart and Avenger moved the needle significantly forward, and sales of the small Fiat brand models also bolstered the group’s performance, while Jeep deliveries were off slightly, partly because the brand is waiting for the successor to the Liberty compact utility.

Toyota Group’s Small Cars Overachieve in January

Major Japanese automaker Toyota Group posted a double-digit gain. Toyota’s sales were up 22% even when sales were adjusted for one extra selling day this year—25 vs. 24 days in January 2012. Toyota said the redesigned Camry continues to outpace its 2012 performance and the automakers pointed to a strong start for redesigns of the Avalon and the RAV4. However, Corolla, the Scion youth lineup of compact vehicles and the Prius family of compact hybrids also were strong performers. Honda Group sales were up more than 8%, with sales of its new 2013 Accord midsize sedan advancing by two-thirds from a year ago. The Pilot and Crosstour also boosted deliveries last month.

Among other multi-franchise automakers, Volkswagen Group’s sales in the United States rose in single digits from a year ago, with a best-ever January for its Porsche luxury brand. Other corporate automakers reporting single-digit gains in sales included Nissan Group and the Hyundai and Kia brands.

Subaru maintained its lead among the independents with a boost from its new WRX Impreza, while Mitsubishi posted a slim loss but strong sales for its Outlander Sport. Mazda, which just introduced its redone Mazda6, posted a decline in January from a year ago, although Mazda5 sales improved by more than one-half from a year ago.

*The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline at a pump in the United States rose to $3.46 on Friday from $3.31 a week ago and $3.29 a month ago, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report. In California, the average price at the pump on Friday was $3.82.

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