Chrysler Group LLC, Hyundai Motor Co. (005380) and Kia Motors Corp. (000270) led gains in January U.S. auto sales, while Honda Motor Co. increased deliveries for the first time since April as consumers replaced aging vehicles.
Chrysler’s U.S. sales increase of 44 percent surpassed eight analysts’ average estimate for a 32-percent sales gain. Affiliates Hyundai and Kia, based in Seoul, sold a combined 78,211 vehicles in January, a 20 percent increase. Honda boosted deliveries 8.8 percent, topping six analysts’ estimates for a 1.2 percent decline.
Toyota Motor Corp. (7203), Ford Motor Co. (F) and Nissan Motor Co. also reported gains from a year earlier, and General Motors Co. (GM) posted a smaller decline than analysts estimated. The light- vehicle seasonally adjusted annualized rate was 14.2 million, the fastest since the “cash for clunkers” government incentive program in August 2009. The average estimate of 14 analysts for a 13.4 million rate, up from 12.7 million a year earlier.
“Some people are starting to feel comfortable enough in the economy that they are willing to buy a car,” said Jim Hall, principal of 2953 Analytics Inc., an automotive consulting firm in Birmingham, Michigan. “Others are saying, ‘I’ve got to replace this old car because it’s nickel and diming me to death.’”
With the average age of U.S. cars and trucks rising to a record 10.8 years, according to R.L. Polk & Co., analysts see pent-up demand bolstering sales in January and boosting deliveries to a third straight annual gain, the longest streak since U.S. sales peaked in 2000. An improving job market and available credit may drive up full-year sales more than 6 percent to 13.6 million, the average of 18 analysts’ estimates.
Chrysler, the automaker majority owned by Fiat SpA, sold 101,149 cars and light trucks last month, up from 70,118 a year earlier, the Auburn Hills, Michigan-based company said in a news release. Hyundai and Kia topped the 18 percent sales gain that was the average estimate of four analysts.
Honda, Japan’s third-largest automaker, snapped an eight- month streak of sales declines from a year earlier, boosting deliveries by 8.8 percent, according to an e-mailed statement. The Tokyo-based company was expected to report a 1.2 percent decline, the average of six analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Sales were buoyed by a 50 percent increase in deliveries of Civic compact cars.
GM’s deliveries fell 6.1 percent to 167,962, the Detroit- based automaker said. That beat the 7.3 percent decline estimated by eight analysts. Buyers paid about $30,400 per GM vehicle in January, up about $1,000 from a year earlier, Jim Cain, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail.
GM incentive spending slid by about $700 per vehicle, Cain said. The automaker outspent the industry average by 42 percent in January 2011, according to Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey-based Autodata.
“When the incentives are down and sales are up, it clearly indicates the product is selling itself,” Jesse Toprak, an analyst at Santa Monica, California-based auto-pricing researcher TrueCar.com, said in a phone interview. “That’s the way it’s supposed to happen in a healthy market environment. The underlying consumer demand continues to improve and prospects for the economy are looking better now than a year ago.”
Ford’s sales of light vehicles increased 7.3 percent to 136,294 in January from 126,981 a year earlier, the automaker said today. The average estimate of eight analysts’ surveyed by Bloomberg was for a 7.9 percent rise.
Sales of Ford’s Focus compact car rose 60 percent to 14,400, while its Fiesta subcompact and Fusion family sedan fell. The Escape small sport-utility vehicle rose 24 percent to 17,259 models, Ford said.
GM rose 1.5 percent to $24.37 at the close in New York. Ford fell 0.7 percent to $12.33.
Nissan’s January sales increased 10 percent to 79,313 cars and trucks, topping the 7.6 percent average estimate of six analysts.
Toyota sales rose 7.5 percent last month to 124,540 cars and light trucks. Asia’s largest automaker exceeded the average of six analysts’ estimates for a 7 percent increase. The gain was led by a 56 percent jump in sales of Camry sedans.
“We’ve sold down to the asphalt for a number of months at my Toyota store,” Gordon Stewart, who also owns four Chevrolet dealerships and has outlets in four states, said in a phone interview. “Given the blowout sales we had in December, we lowered our expectations for January. But we still managed to eke out of good month in January and that’s very promising.”
At Chrysler, models such as the 200 sedan, its top-selling car last year, and the Dodge Durango SUV first arrived at dealerships a year ago. Deliveries of the 200 surged to 7,007 in January from 788 a year ago and Durango more than doubled to 3,021 from 1,199. Jeep brand sales climbed 37 percent to 31,710 led by the Grand Cherokee and Wrangler SUVs. Ram sales rose 47 percent to 17,909.
“We’re looking at a completely revamped lineup from Chrysler that’s still kicking in, with a lot of models coming up on their first full year of production,” Alec Gutierrez, an analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said in a phone interview before results were disclosed. “A year ago, Chrysler didn’t quite have the product they needed to drive sales.”
Chrysler earned $225 million in net income in the fourth quarter, the company said earlier today, exceeding the $186 million average of four analysts’ estimates. Net income may rise to about $1.5 billion in 2012 as global revenue climbs 18 percent to $65 billion, the U.S. company said. It emerged from a government-financed bankruptcy in 2009 under Fiat (F) management.
Volkswagen AG (VOW3), which is targeting U.S. sales growth of more than 10 percent this year, increased combined U.S. sales of its Volkswagen and Audi brands by 39 percent last month from a year earlier. The average of three analysts’ estimates was for a 27 percent gain.
Volkswagen plans to sell more than 500,000 cars in the U.S. this year as part of the Wolfsburg, Germany-based automaker’s goal to become the world’s biggest automaker by 2018.
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