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US auto sales see fastest pace since 2008
by Staff Writers
Chicago (AFP) Feb 1, 2012

US auto sales in January hit their highest rate since 2008, driven by huge growth at once-troubled Chrysler and improving consumer confidence, industry data showed Wednesday.

"January auto sales blew past expectations based on the strength of the best line of products consumers ever got to choose from as well as the improved outlook for economic recovery," said Jesse Toprak, an analyst at

Total industry sales rose 11.4 percent from January 2010, according to Autodata.

But the big news was in the sales pace, which rose to an adjusted, annualized rate of 14.18 million vehicles. That's up from 13.56 million in December and the best performance since May 2008.

That is still down significantly from the 15 to 17 million vehicles sold annually in the dozen years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, but a dramatic improvement from even a year ago when the sales rate came in at 12.69 million.

January is typically the slowest sales month of the year because so many buyers were drawn in by December's year-end sales or are waiting for new models to hit showrooms.

So Wednesday's results bode well for the rest of the year, especially since it comes after months of slow but steady gains as the US auto industry climbs out of the worst downturn in decades.

"The sales are certainly outpacing our expectations," Ford spokesman Erich Merkle told AFP.

A huge amount of pent-up demand is also fueling sales, Merkle said, because so many people put off replacing their vehicles in the past four years.

The average age of vehicles on the road recently hit a record high of 10.8 years and supplies of used cars in good shape has dwindled as well.

"This is a positive start as we begin 2012," Merkle added.

Chrysler far outpaced the pack with 44 percent jump in January sales to 101,149 vehicles.

It was Chrysler's 22nd consecutive month of gains and eighth month in a row of growth that came in at 20 percent or higher.

"We started the new year with a bang," Reid Bigland, head of Chrysler's US sales, said in a statement.

"In January, we continued building on the sales momentum that we generated during 2011 with our 16 all-new or significantly refreshed products."

The strong sales results come as Detroit's number three carmaker posted its first annual profit since emerging from a government-backed bankruptcy in 2009 and vowed to multiply profits eight times in 2012 to around $1.5 billion.

Ford also posted its best January since 2008 as sales rose seven percent to 136,710 vehicles.

GM said it was "not at all disappointed" in its six percent drop to 167,962 vehicles, which came in above forecasts and was due in part to a comparison with a "very strong" January in 2011.

"The strength that the economy and the auto industry showed in the fourth quarter carried into January, so we believe the year is off to a good start," said Don Johnson, head of GM's US sales.

"In 2012, we will strengthen our position with more new products, an even better dealership experience and reinforce the disciplined 'go to market' strategy that helped us grow profitably in the United States in 2011."

Toyota -- which has finally restocked dealer lots after supplies were smashed by the devastating Japanese quake and tsunami -- saw sales rise eight percent to 124,540 vehicles.

"January was an encouraging start to the year for both the industry and Toyota," Bob Carter general manager of Toyota Motor Sales USA, said in a conference call.

"We expect the gradually improving economy will continue to bring buyers back into the marketplace, at the same time our influx of new models are arriving at dealership."

Honda, which was also hit by supply problems, posted a nine percent gain to 83,009 vehicles in January.

"Honda's return to full strength on the manufacturing front is already beginning to pay dividends on the sales floor," said John Mendel, head of Honda's US sales.

Volkswagen, which is making an aggressive push into the US market as part of a goal to become the world's largest automaker, posted a 48 percent gain in January to 27,209 vehicles.

Korean automaker Hyundai and its sister Kia extended their recent gains, with Hyundai sales up 15 percent at 42,694 vehicles and Kia up 28 percent at 35,517.

Nissan saw sales jump 10 percent to 79,313.


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