DETROIT (WWJ) - Car buyers had their foot firmly planted on the accelerator in January, pushing auto industry sales up 14 percent, continuing the torrid pace set in the fourth quarter of 2012.
"2013 car sales started off with a bang, with results that are exceeding our expectations," said analyst Jesse Toprak with Truecar.com.
Top performers were Toyota and Ford, with sales up 27 and 22 percent respectively. Ford sales cheif Ken Czubay said they had very strong sales of the new Fusion and Escape, and--with solid inventories built up--they were anticipating those sales to continue.
January Car Sales Exceed Expectations
Interview: WWJ's Jeff Gilbert talks with Bill Visnic of Edmunds.com.
"We're ready to rock and roll, starting today and going through the year," said Ford sales chief Ken Czubay.
Car Companies Off To A Good Start
Interview: Jeff Gilbert talks with Jesse Toprak of truecar.com.
But Ford also had the only blot on an otherwise great sales month. Lincoln sales were down 18 percent. The company said the new MKZ's launch was being slowed to make sure quality was just right.
But Truecar.com's Jesse Toprak said Lincoln is also dealing with a perception problem.
"Their product isn't the issue," he said. "Their image is the problem. It's an unsolvable issue. But, it's one that's going to take several years to work on."
The other two domestic carmakers also had strong sales in January. Both Chrysler and GM posted increases of 16 percent.
"Our compact cars were up 32 percent," said GM sales operations manager Kurt McNeil. "Our small utilities--Equinox and Terrain--were up 30 percent. We had a very good full size pickup month. Our full size pickups were up 32 percent."
GM was also helped by an updated lineup of crossover vehicles. Edmunds.com analyst Bill Visnic said sales overall were boosted by the availability of new products.
"A lot of very, very solid mainstream, high volume products out there, that are new in the market for this year," he said. "It looks as if that's going to be the foundation that builds for a very strong year."
For Chrysler, it was the 34th consecutive month of year over year sales increases, and the best January in five years.
"It's been a good week for the Chrysler Group. On Wednesday we announced full year 2012 profits of $1.7 billion and followed that today with our January sales, up 16 percent, marking our 34th-consecutive month of year-over-year sales growth," said Reid Bigland, Head of U.S. Sales. "Entering 2013 our product portfolio has never been stronger with our new Ram truck picking up both the 2013 Motor Trend and the North American 'Truck of the Year' awards, and the introduction of our new 30 mpg highway Jeep® Grand Cherokee equipped with our new EcoDiesel engine."
Dodge had a 37 percent sales increase. The small Dodge Dart, which has been off to a slow start, saw its sales rise 16 percent from December to January.
Toyota's sales increase was partially due to a solid comeback from the disaters of 2011.
"Toyota is still dealing with recovery from the earthquake and tsunami," said analyst Jeff Schuster with LMC Automotive. "Stronger than expected performance last year. It looks like that's starting to continue right now."
Schuster says in additoin to new products, the industry is helped by easier access to credit, good lease deals and an aging fleet--with the average vehicle on the road now more than 11 years old.
"Buyers really are just sitting on older vehicles, and there is enough of an incentive and momentum to replace those."
The seasonally adjusted annual sales rate is estimated at about 15.5 million. GM sales operations Kurt McNeil says they still estimate the full year will come in between 15 and 15.5 million.
"It's gonna depend on continued slow economic growth, and how fast does that really take off. It could be on the high end of that range, no question."
For now, Truecar.com analyst Jesse Toprak is staying with his full year sales projection of 15.5 million. But it is subject to change.
"There is a good chance that that forecast may prove to be somewhat conservative, even though we were on the high end of the forecast," he said. "That's a good problem to have. I will take year when my forecast is lower than the actual sales."
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