By TOM KRISHER and DEE-ANN DURBIN
2014-02-03 11:42 PM
DETROIT (AP) -- Sales at Chrysler and Nissan dealers were hot last month, but General Motors, Ford and Volkswagen sales were as frigid as the weather that gripped much of the U.S.
Chrysler's U.S. sales advanced 8 percent, while Nissan's rose nearly 12 percent. But GM was down 12 percent, Ford was off 7 percent and Volkswagen slumped 19 percent.
Analysts aren't expecting January to be a strong month for automakers. They're predicting little or no sales growth compared with a year ago because a barrage of snowstorms and cold snaps kept buyers out of showrooms.
Chrysler was an exception, notching its best January in six years. Sales were led by the Chrysler 200 midsize car and the Ram pickup. Both posted gains of more than 20 percent. Jeep brand sales rose 38 percent, fueled by sales of 10,505 new Cherokee small SUVs. It was the company's 46th-straight month of year-over-year sales gains.
"The bad weather only seemed to affect our competitors' stores as we had a great January," Reid Bigland, Chrysler's U.S. sales chief, said in a statement.
Nissan sales gained 11.8 percent, led by the redesigned Rogue small crossover SUV with sales up 55 percent.
But GM said its U.S. sales dropped due to the frigid weather, with nearly all of its high-volume models showing declining sales. "Historically, January is the industry's lowest sales month of the year. Extreme winter weather in the South, Midwest and Northeast this January further depressed GM and industry sales," the company said.
GM predicted an industrywide annual selling rate of 15.3 million for the month, just a touch above the 15.2 percent rate January 2013.
Ford also blamed the weather for its sales decline. Sales of the Ford Focus small car plunged 26 percent from last January, while sales of the F-Series pickup were flat. Ford's Lincoln luxury brand was the bright spot, with a 43 percent increase. Sales of the Lincoln MKZ sedan, which went on sale last spring, more than quadrupled over last January's anemic levels.
The company said the repeated winter storms and subzero temperatures disrupted deliveries to rental car companies and other so-called fleet buyers. Retail sales to individual buyers were down 5 percent, the company said. "Given the difficult weather in our largest sales regions, we are fortunate to have held in at retail as well as we did," John Felice, Ford's U.S. sales chief, said in a statement. "In areas where the weather was good, such as in the West, sales were up."
Volkswagen also reported a down month, with nearly every vehicle in its lineup losing sales compared with a year ago.
Dealers said they expected slower sales for the month due to the weather.
"When you go three days when no one comes on the lot, it's a little tough to be up to average," said Timothy "Bruce" Detweiler, dealer principal of a Buick-GMC dealer in Masontown, Pennsylvania, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Pittsburgh. Local temperatures were near or below zero for several straight days.
Even if the industry started slowly in January, analysts still expect sales to be over 16 million this year -- a return to pre-recession levels -- as customers go shopping again once the weather gets warm. Old cars need to be replaced, low-interest financing is abundant and the companies are introducing exciting new vehicles. Last year, total U.S. sales rose 8 percent, or by 1.1 million vehicles, to 15.6 million.
For January, most analysts are predicting sales at an annual rate of around 15.6 million, about a 2.5 percent increase from last January.
Detweiler is hoping that those who didn't leave their homes during the streak of bad weather will venture out and buy in February.
"Historically, a lot of times when they're stuck in the house, they end up researching cars," he said. "Sometimes we have a good month the next month because of really bad weather."