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Chrysler, Nissan post big Feb. U.S. sales gains

DETROIT - Chrysler and Nissan each posted double-digit U.S. sales gains last month, luring customers onto icy-cold dealer lots by lowering prices on some key models.

Nissan said Monday that its sales were up almost 16 percent to just over 115,000. Chrysler sales rose 11 percent to nearly 155,000.

Chrysler was led by the Ram pickup with a 26 percent sales gain, while Nissan was led by the Rogue crossover SUV with sales up almost 73 percent.

Both automakers lowered prices on many models to achieve the higher sales figures, allowing them to defy predictions of a February slowdown due to frigid temperatures and multiple snowstorms that hit the U.S. Midwest, South and Northeast during the month.

Nissan's average sales price fell almost 4 percent -- more than $1,000 -- compared with a year ago, according to the auto pricing site. While Chrysler's average sale price was up 6 percent, it boosted discounts on the Ram pickup, its most popular model, by $593 compared with a year ago, according to data collected by J.D. Power and Associates.

The Associated Press got the J.D. Power data from a person asked not to be identified because the numbers aren't typically released to the public.

The Ram discounts, which averaged just under $5,000, were higher than those offered by Ford and General Motors, its main competitors. Despite the Ram increase, discounts in the pickup segment were down $548 compared with a year ago, according to the data.

Dealer inventories, especially for the Detroit automakers, have hit their highest level in five years, putting pressure on companies to clear their lots. At the end of January, dealers had an 89-day supply of cars and trucks, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank. Detroit automakers had the most, with General Motors at 114 days, followed by Ford at 107 and Chrysler at 105.

To unload the inventory, automakers are offering more discounts. That means deals for consumers. Incentives are the highest they've been in three years, averaging $2,633 per vehicle in February, up more than 5 percent from a year ago, according to the TrueCar.

Larry Dominique, executive vice president of TrueCar, said automaker spending on discounts is growing faster than average sales prices, but he predicted that good deals will wane as the weather gets warmer and customers return to dealers.

"We expect a return to balance once the winter subsides and inventories ease," he said.

All automakers are due to report February sales on Monday. Analysts expect only about a 1 percent sales increase as other automakers report small increases or sales declines.

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