Auto sales jump by double digits; GM leads at 49 percent
DETROIT -- The U.S. auto sales recovery picked up steam last month with all major car companies reporting double-digit gains.
General Motors Co. led the way with a whopping 49 percent U.S. sales jump compared to February of last year, followed closely by Toyota Motor Corp. with a 42 percent gain.
Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. had gains of 32 percent and 22 percent, while Hyundai Motor Co. sales went up 28 percent.
Chrysler Group LLC and Ford Motor Co. showed much smaller increases, but Chrysler sales were still strong with a 13 percent increase and Ford came in at 10 percent.
The companies said Tuesday that consumers snapped up both cars and trucks, buoyed by a gradually improving economy, and the U.S. automakers pointed to strong sales of new models. But the sales gains, especially for GM, were juiced by sweeter financing and lease deals. While analysts weren't ready to declare a price war -- and GM denied starting one -- they noted an increase in the deals customers were offered.
The auto industry website TrueCar.com estimated that automakers raised incentives 5 percent from January to February to an average of $2,708 per vehicle. Chrysler, Ford, Nissan and Toyota all sweetened deals by more than 6 percent for the month, the site said.
The industry's enthusiasm for a fast start to 2011 is tempered by a rapid increase in gas prices, a result of increased demand and a jump in oil prices amid unrest in the Middle East.
Toyota's gain, while impressive, was compared to a bad month last year when a string of embarrassing safety recalls had reached its peak.
Still, the gains for February were so strong that Ford's top sales analyst told reporters the sales rate, when adjusted for seasonal differences and projected out for a full year, may be the highest since the government's Cash for Clunkers rebates juiced sales in the summer of 2009.
At GM, Don Johnson, GM's vice president of U.S. sales, said GM boosted incentives early in the year to get off to a fast start and catch competitors off guard.
The automaker started the increases in January by raising incentives $400 per vehicle from December, mainly with low-interest financing and lease deals in Northeastern states. It stuck with the deals in February, leading to sales of more than 207,000 cars and trucks.
But Johnson predicted GM would back off on incentives later in the year.
Automakers have attempted to wean themselves of incentives, trying to sell cars and trucks based on how much they improved quality, not how much they shaved off the sticker price. Incentives on average had been falling since the industry ran into financial trouble in 2009.Additional Information:
Automakers released February U.S. sales figures on Tuesday. Here is a look at the month's top-selling vehicles, as well as the percent change in sales from February of 2010.
Model February 2010 Sales Percent change
1. Ford F-Series Pickup 37,549 +14.1
2. Chevrolet Silverado Pickup 31,728 +60.1
3. Toyota Camry/Solara 27,212 +64.4
4. Toyota Corolla/Matrix 25,860 +52.2
5. Ford Fusion 23,111 +40.4
6. Honda Accord/Crosstour 22,916 +2.0
7. Nissan Altima 20,808 +28.5
8. Honda Civic 19,121 +16.1
9. Honda CR-V 19,096 +61.4
10. Chevrolet Malibu 19,092 +26.0
Source: Autodata Corp.