​Fiat Chrysler posts robust January sales

DETROIT - Fiat Chrysler's (FCAU) January U.S. sales rose a healthy 7 percent, a sign that the auto industry shoveled past a snowstorm that buried East Coast population centers late in the month.

The Italian-American automaker said Tuesday it sold just over 155,000 cars and trucks last month compared with 145,000 a year ago.

But Fiat Chrysler wasn't led by its usual big sellers. The Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee and the Ram Pickup all posted modest increases. Instead, the sales were boosted by some unlikely vehicles -- including an 83 percent increase for the heavily discounted Dodge Caravan minivan. FCA also reported a 70 percent rise in Dodge Durango SUV sales, and a 39 percent increase for the Chrysler Town & Country minivan.

Analysts are predicting a sales drop from a year ago due to the snowstorm after all automakers finish reporting numbers on Tuesday. Big East Coast metro areas such as New York and Washington, D.C., were buried under more than 2 feet of snow the weekend of Jan. 22.

J.D. Power and Associates forecast a 4.5 percent sales drop from a year ago at just under 1.1 million cars and trucks, while the TrueCar.com auto pricing site expected sales to fall 0.3 percent to 1.15 million.

"The snowstorm on the East Coast disrupted an estimated 15,000 sales," John Humphrey, J.D. Power's senior vice president of automotive, said in a statement. But Humphrey said those sales were merely postponed, not lost. He expected some catch-up last weekend and into February.

Last month also had two fewer selling days than a year ago when January sales hit their highest point in nine years.

TrueCar predicted small sales increases for General Motors (GM), Volkswagen (VLKAY) and Nissan (NSANY), and a small decline for Ford (F). Honda (HMC) and Toyota (TM) were expected to see sales fall by 5 percent or more. Honda and Toyota rely more heavily on fuel-efficient autos than on trucks and SUVs even as cheaper gas helps push buyers toward larger vehicles.

Consulting firm LMC Automotive is sticking with its prediction of a record sales year at 17.8 million sales, although the growth rate will be far slower than past years and could touch off more intense competition for buyers.