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Pent-Up Demand Continues to Drive U.S. Auto Sales in January

2/5/2013
The New Year began on a bright note for major automakers in the U.S. market due to continued pent-up demand from consumers trading in aging vehicles (the average vehicle age in the United States is 11 years) for new ones or consumers replacing a vehicle damaged or totaled in last year's Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast.

Lower interest rates were available and there were incentives available in some auto segments. For instance, GM offered a special maintenance package on its GMC Sierra large pickup. In addition to continued strong sales of compact vehicles--with gas prices beginning to rise again in some states*--large pickups posted increases from a year ago. It is likely that an improvement in the housing market is benefiting large truck sales.

There was good news for the three Detroit-based automakers--all of them posted double-digit sales gains from last January. Ford Motor Co. posted the largest double-digit gain among the three U.S. automakers with very strong deliveries for its redesigned Fusion sedan and Escape compact crossover. Explorer sales also surged, while F-Series large pickup sales also rose in near double digits from last year. Ford's Lincoln luxury brand posted a sales decline, partly due to low inventories of its new 2013 MKZ sedan that is produced at a plant in Mexico.

Cadillac ATS Boosts Brand's Sales in January
Among GM's stable of four brands, Cadillac and Buick led gains for the largest U.S. automaker, with strength from the new Cadillac ATS, which was named North American Car of the Year at the recent auto show in Detroit, MI. GM said in a statement that one-fifth of ATS buyers are under the age of 35. Other GM models with strong sales in January were the Buick Enclave midsize CUV, and compact Verano and Chevrolet Sonic models. Sales of GM's 2013 pickups also were up in double digits right before the 2014 redesigned models are introduced.

Dodge was bolstered by its new Dart and Avenger model sales, which moved the needle significantly for Fiat-Chrysler, and Fiat small car sales also rose in double digits from a year ago, while Jeep sales slipped slightly, which may be due to the discontinuation of the Liberty before its successor is introduced.

Toyota and Honda Groups continued to capture sales and share. Toyota Group's sales climbed nearly 22% on a selling-day-adjusted basis, while Honda Group's sales were up more than 8% from a year ago. Toyota's compacts--the Corolla and Prius family of hybrid gasoline-electric models--posted double-digit gains, and sales of the redesigned Avalon rose by well over one-third from a year ago. Toyota's Scion youth brand also sold one-third more vehicles than in the same month of 2012. Tundra large pickup sales also advanced in double digits. Honda's all-new 2013 Accord was in demand, with sales advancing by two-thirds from a year ago. Nissan Group's sales were in line with last year's totals, with strong deliveries for the new Pathfinder and the Sentra.

South Korea's Hyundai and Kia brands posted smaller single-digit gains, although Kia announced that January was a record month, with strong deliveries of the U.S.-made Optima and Sorento crossover. Hyundai's strong sellers were the Elantra and Santa Fe, along with the Tucson.

Some German Brands Post Slimmer Gains in January
In January, some of the German automakers posted slimmer gains than their rivals. Sales of BMW brand models were flat in January after the luxury brand captured the 2012 luxury sales title in the U.S. market. Volkswagen Group, which also was one of the companies with the highest year-over-year volume gains in 2012, also posted a smaller increase in sales in the first month this year vs. the same month in 2012. However, VW Group's Porsche high-end sports car brand posted its best-ever January sales.

In contrast, Daimler Group's Mercedes-Benz brand bucked trends by breaking a sales record for January with a high single-digit increase. Some of the top-selling models included the E-Class and S-Class models along with the GL-Class and GLK-Class CUVs.

Among the independent brands, Subaru maintained its distance as the top-volume seller and reported selling one-fifth more vehicles in January than a year ago. Impreza WRX deliveries nearly doubled, while Subaru got a nice boost from 2,764 sales of its new XV Crosstrek small SUV. Mitsubishi Motors posted a smaller dip from last January, due primarily to gains for its Outlander Sport. Even sales of the i-MiEV improved slightly.

*The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline at a pump in the United States rose to $3.46 on Friday from $3.31 a week ago and $3.29 a month ago, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report. In California, the average price at the pump on Friday was $3.82.

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