Ford leads U.S. carmakers beating estimates as leases expire

Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC reported January vehicle sales gains that topped estimates, as the U.S. auto market begins a fourth consecutive year of growth with buyers returning to showrooms.

Ford’s deliveries of cars and light trucks climbed 22% while GM and Chrysler sales each rose 16%, according to company statements. The average estimates of 11 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg was for increases of 17% by Ford, 15% for Chrysler and 13% for GM.

The U.S. automakers will join Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. among automakers benefiting from about 500,000 more returning customers whose leases expire this year compared with 2012, according to researcher Edmunds.com. The phenomenon shows the auto market, a bright spot in the U.S. economy, still has further room to recover from the recession that ended in 2009.

“We’ve had more consumers coming back into the market to buy, and they’re getting financing,” Melinda Zabritski, a credit analyst at Experian Automotive, said in a telephone interview. “We’ll see returns similar to what we had pre- recession.”

Ford’s subcompact, compact and midsize cars all increased sales in the same month for the first time since June 2011. The Dearborn, Michigan-based company’s deliveries of F-Series pickups surged 22% to 46,841.

Dart’s Best

Sales for Chrysler, majority owned by Fiat SpA, climbed to 117,731 cars and light trucks from 101,149 a year earlier, led by demand for its Dodge models the Auburn Hills, Michigan-based company said today in a statement. The Dodge Dart compact had its best month since its introduction in June.

GM’s deliveries of Chevrolet Silverado pickups climbed 32% to 35,445 while sales for the GMC Sierra truck increased 35%  to 12,846. The Detroit-based automaker said inventory of full-size pickups still rose 5.7% from Dec. 31 to 234,342, or 117 days supply.

Automakers in 2012 managed to sell the most cars and light trucks in the U.S. in five years with fewer off-lease customers going back to dealerships. In all, about 2 million lease returns will occur this year, according to Santa Monica, California- based Edmunds’ estimates.

The auto industry contributed 14% of the 2.1% average rate of growth for gross domestic product in the recovery that began in the third quarter of 2009 to the fourth quarter of 2012, according to data from the Commerce Department.

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