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.
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.
Chrysler Group plans to boost production to 2.6 million vehicles in 2013, from 2.4 million last year and 2 million in 2011, said Scott Garberding, senior vice president of manufacturing for Chrysler Group.
“We’re adding some capacity, but we’re more heavily utilizing everywhere the capacity that we have,” Garberding said today in an interview with Tom Keene and Sara Eisen on Bloomberg Television. “Many of our factories in the U.S. today are in fact going at full speed. Our Jeep plants are saturated” aside from a Toledo factory that is revamping for a new product.
Chrysler’s sales gain in January extended its stretch of year-over-year increases to 34 months, one short of the 35-month streak that the company had in the period ending December 1994. The company sold 7,154 Darts, up from 6,105 in December. Deliveries of the Dodge Journey sport-utility vehicle almost doubled from a year earlier to 8,179, and the Avenger sedan surged 69% to 9,628.
In 2009, with the economy in trouble, leases -- which usually last for three years -- dropped dramatically. Americans entered into about half as many new-vehicle leases in 2009 compared with two years earlier. Leasing bounced back strongly the next year, and those leases are about to expire.
GM, Ford and Toyota will lead a U.S. auto market that probably will climb to 15.1 million vehicle sales this year, the average of 18 estimates, from 14.5 million in 2012.
GM shares gained 43% for the six months ended yesterday, as vehicle demand has returned, far outpacing the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index’s 8.6% increase. Over the same period, Ford rose 40% and Toyota added 45%.
U.S. light-vehicle sales may begin the year with a 14% increase in January to 1.04 million, the average of nine analysts’ estimates. The annualized industry sales rate, which is adjusted for seasonal trends, may have been 15.2 million, the average of 17 analysts’ estimates.
Chrysler forecast a 15.5 million industry sales pace for January in its statement today, including medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, which typically account for at least 200,000 deliveries per year. GM said the January light-vehicle sales rate may be 15.3 million in an e-mailed statement.
Toyota and Tokyo-based Honda, whose captive finance units lead the new-vehicle leasing market, may post the biggest increases in U.S. sales for January. Deliveries probably rose 22% for Toyota City, Japan-based Toyota and 21% for Honda, the average of eight analysts’ estimates.
Ford and Detroit-based GM, the two largest automakers by U.S. sales, both have issued 2013 forecasts calling for the industry to exceed 15 million deliveries.
Nissan Motor Co., which owns a finance unit that closely follows Toyota and Honda in originating leases, probably sold 3.5% more vehicles in January than a year earlier, the average of seven estimates. Nissan is based in Yokohama, Japan.
Analysts estimate that Seoul-based Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. may combine to sell 7.4% more vehicles in January compared with a year earlier, the average of six estimates. Wolfsburg, Germany-based Volkswagen AG likely boosted deliveries of VW and Audi brand vehicles in January by 20%, the average of four estimates.
Sales for the Volkswagen brand increased 6.7% to 29,018, according to an e-mailed statement.