US February auto sales hit best performance since 2000

[NEW YORK] Automakers scored strong US sales in February, pulling away from January's slowdown at the best pace since 2000.

Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Honda and Nissan had double-digit increases. Sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks again were hot sellers as cheap gasoline prices drove buyers to the fuel guzzlers.

Total sales climbed 6.9 per cent from last February to 1.34 million vehicles, according to Autodata, in line with estimates. The pace of sales was an annual rate of 17.54 million, up seven percent from a year ago.

Ford, the number-two US automaker, scored a 20.4 per cent year-over-year increase in February, with 217,192 vehicles sold, well above expectations.

Ford said its Ford brand sport-utility vehicle sales last month set a company record, totaling 65,016 SUVs, up 28 per cent from a year ago. Overall SUV sales advanced 29.2 per cent to 54,420 units.

F-series pickup truck sales were robust, too, rising 10 per cent, the best performance in a decade.

"We saw a solid industry last month and a strong month for Ford, as customer demand for our newest vehicles - including new high-end series on Explorer and Edge - helped Ford increase its average transaction prices at almost double the industry average," said Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president of US marketing, sales and service.

FCA US, the US arm of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, said US sales jumped 12 per cent to 182,879 units, topping forecasts.

Jeep brand sales advanced 23 per cent in February, with Jeep Cherokee, Wrangler, Patriot and Compass models racking up their best February ever.

Five other brands set records in the month, including the Ram pickup truck and van, and the Dodge Journey crossover.

GM, the largest US automaker, said sales fell 1.5 per cent from a year ago to 227,825 units, dragged lower by a 39 per cent drop in rental deliveries.

"Our strategy is simple: grow profitable retail share while maintaining discipline with inventory levels and incentive spending, while reducing rental deliveries," said Kurt McNeil, GM's US vice-president of sales operations, in a statement.

In the retail market, GM sales of cars and trucks rose 6.6 per cent to 179,958 units. It said its Chevrolet brand remained the auto industry's fastest-growing full-line brand in February, with sales up 13 per cent.

Sales of luxury brand Cadillac rose 4.2 per cent, but GMC sales dropped 8.3 per cent and Buick fell 1.9 per cent.

Following January's bout of wintry weather, automakers rolled out promotions and rebate offers in February, particularly around the Presidents Day holiday on February 15. Holiday-linked rebates averaged US$175 per vehicle, analysts said.

Toyota, the world's largest automaker, said US sales rose 4.1 per cent to 187,954 vehicles.

"The Toyota division had back-to-back, best-ever light truck monthly records, supported by another best-ever month in February for RAV4," one of the company's crossover SUVs, said Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager for the Japanese company's US division.

Honda scored a 12.8 per cent rise year-on-year, at 188,985 Honda and Acura vehicles. Civic sales revved up 31.7 per cent.

Nissan's US sales climbed 11 per cent over the prior year to 130,911 units, a February record. Sales of Nissan crossovers, trucks and SUVs also set a February record, up 14 per cent.

Volkswagen, mired in an emissions cheating scandal that has spurred multiple probes and lawsuits in the United States, said US sales tumbled 13.2 per cent to 22,321 units, though luxury brand Audi had a modest gain.

After 2015's record-breaking sales, so far this year the US auto market seems to be setting up for another banner year, said Jeremy Acevedo of

Barclays analyst Jess Hurwitz pointed out the sales reports from manufacturers followed last Friday's January personal income and spending report, which included a 0.4 per cent month-on-month rise in consumer spending.

"On net, these data bolster our confidence that solid household spending will keep US growth on track," he said.


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