GM Joins Chrysler, Nissan in Exceeding Delivery Estimates

General Motors Co. joined Chrysler Group LLC and Nissan Motor Co. in beating analysts’ estimates for February U.S. sales while Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. did worse than projected.

Chrysler and Nissan gains were driven largely by sport-utility vehicles while GM saw improved deliveries of Chevrolet cars and Buick models that helped make up for declines by its trucks. Ford said dealers struggled to sell small cars in another frigid month across much of the country.

Light-vehicle sales in the U.S. remained little changed in February compared to the same month a year ago reaching 1.2 million while the annualized selling pace, adjusted for seasonal trends, matched last year’s 15.3 million units, according to researcher Autodata Corp. The average of 13 analyst estimates was for an annualized rate of 15.4 million.

“Heading into February, our expectations were very low, we were expecting another down month, similar to what we saw in January,” Alec Gutierrez, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, said today in a telephone interview. “Given some of the challenges that we saw with the month, I would classify this as a good month for the industry and sets us up for a very strong March.”

Detroit Results

GM’s U.S. sales slipped 1 percent to 222,104, beating analysts’ estimates for a 7.7 percent decline. The Detroit-based automaker reported today that sales by its Buick brand increased 19 percent, helped by deliveries of the Regal sedan, up 49 percent, and the Encore sport-utility vehicle, up 93 percent.

Ford’s U.S. light-vehicle deliveries fell 6.1 percent to 183,349, missing the average of nine analyst estimates in a survey by Bloomberg News for a 5.3 percent decline. Toyota sales slid 4.3 percent, to 159,284, a bigger decline than the 2.5 percent drop estimated by six analysts.

Chrysler deliveries rose 11 percent to 154,866 with its Jeep SUV brand increasing sales by 47 percent, the Auburn Hills, Michigan-based automaker said today in a statement. The third-largest U.S. automaker beat the average of five analyst estimates for an 8.8 percent gain.

“The severe weather has been ideally suited for our legendary Jeep 4x4 capability,” Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales for Chrysler, said in the company’s statement.

Nissan’s Gain

Nissan’s deliveries, including its Infiniti luxury brand, rose 16 percent last month to 115,360, beating analysts’ estimates that projected a 12 percent gain. Rogue SUV sales rose 73 percent to 17,197 while Nissan’s namesake brand trucks as a whole gained 33 percent, the Yokohama, Japan-based automaker said today in an e-mailed statement.

Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of both Chrysler and Fiat SpA, is relying on the U.S. company’s Jeep Cherokee and revamped Chrysler 200 family sedan to fuel profit this year for the group. Chrysler’s strength in SUVs and pickups is helping as buyers coping with inclement weather are seeking vehicles that get good traction.

Chrysler said it sold 11,795 of its Cherokee sport-utility vehicles in its fifth month in the market, and 12,691 of its larger Grand Cherokee, helping the company to extend its streak of year-over-year sales gains to 47 consecutive months.

Monthly Pace

Fiat said in January it would combine with the U.S. automaker to form Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, which will be based in the Netherlands and list on the New York Stock Exchange.

GM said its inventory rose to 805,769 at the end of the month, giving it an 87-day supply. That’s down from 114 during the previous month and an increase from 79 at the end of February 2013.

Ford had 697,000 vehicles in inventory at the end of February, a 91-day supply. That was down from 111 days supply in January and up from 71 days supply in February 2013.

“It’s a good signal when we look at the balancing of sales and production to suggest that we’re starting to work through that inventory glut,” Jeff Schuster, LMC Automotive’s senior vice president of forecasting, said in an interview.

While Buick saw sales increases last month, GM’s Cadillac brand slipped 2.9 percent as ATS compact sedan deliveries fell 28 percent to 2,427 and the bigger redesigned CTS sedan declined 2.2 percent.

“The luxury market was pretty tough in February,” Jim Cain, a GM spokesman, said in an e-mail.

GM’s Chevrolet and GMC brands also failed to post gains even as Chevy’s Cruze, Malibu and Sonic cars reported increases. Chevrolet Silverado pickup sales decreased 12 percent.

Mercedes Rises

U.S. sales of Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz, the top-selling luxury auto brand in the market last year, rose 2.6 percent to 22,609, a February record, while deliveries by Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s namesake brand rose 3.3 percent to 22,017, the automakers said in separate statements.

Honda sales, including those of its Acura luxury brand, fell 7 percent to 100,405, a worse outcome than any of the six analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Those projections, which ranged from a decline of 4 percent to a gain of 2 percent, averaged a 0.3 percent increase for the Tokyo-based company.

Hyundai Motor Co. and affiliate Kia Motors Corp.’s combined deliveries fell 3.8 percent to 90,221, according to statements released by the companies. Analysts had projected their combined sales would rise 1.6 percent in February.

“I don’t like to make excuses, but the awful weather we saw across the country really hurt traffic to our dealerships and ultimately kept our sales at a pace well below what we were expecting,” Bob Pradzinski, vice president of sales for Hyundai’s U.S. unit, said in the statement.

Weather Watch

Volkswagen AG’s VW and Audi brands reported a combined 10 percent drop in sales, compared with a 9.5 percent decline projected by the average of four estimates. U.S. sales the VW brand fell 14 percent to 27,112 as deliveries of the Golf tumbled 56 percent and the Touareg declined 46 percent, the Wolfsburg, Germany-based automaker said in an e-mailed statement. Audi sales rose by four vehicles for a 38th straight monthly gain.

VW canceled a planned call with journalists today because of “blizzard-like conditions” hitting the Washington area where the automaker’s U.S. office is located, the company said in an e-mail.

“Weather still impacted sales, though it does appear that cadence improved through the month,” Joseph Spak, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets said in a note to investors. “This bodes relatively well for our belief that the release of short-term pent-up demand can lead to a spring month in the high” 16 million or 17 million selling rate.

2014 Outlook

GM, Ford and Toyota -- the three largest automakers by U.S. sales -- each predict U.S. auto sales will top 16 million this year after growing by more than 1 million annually for the last four years. They totaled 15.6 million in 2013, the industry’s best annual result since 2007, according to researcher Autodata Corp.

“Despite a slower start to 2014 than most people expected, we look forward to a very successful year, backed by plenty of new products and what should be the strongest GDP growth since the end of the recession,” Kurt McNeil, GM’s U.S. vice president of sales operations, said in the statement.

Tesla Motors Inc., the electric-car maker that forecasts a global sales increase of more than 55 percent this year, doesn’t report U.S. sales on a monthly basis.

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