U.S. auto sales seen as best since 2007 on low financing

Ford Gaining

Ford Motor Co. probably boosted sales of its cars and light trucks more than any major automaker in February, with an increase of 9.8%, the average of 11 estimates. GM probably sold 4.9% more vehicles than a year earlier, the average of 11 estimates.

Deliveries of Ford’s Explorer sport-utility vehicle will increase more than 50 percent from a year earlier, Angie Kozleski, a spokeswoman for the Dearborn, Michigan-based company, said in an e-mail.

Rising demand is leading automakers to invest and add workers at U.S. plants. Ford said this month it will spend $200 million to boost production at an Ohio plant of a four-cylinder engine that goes into vehicles including the Explorer. The factory will start production of the engine in late 2014 and add 450 jobs.

Employment Rises

The number of people employed in motor-vehicle and parts manufacturing climbed to 786,500 at the end of 2012, from 653,400 three years earlier, according to the Labor Department.

“Credit availability is a big part of supporting the growth of the auto industry,” Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas, told reporters on Feb. 21 at the company’s engine plant near Cleveland. “Dealers are feeling more optimistic about leasing and credit availability for consumers.”

Volkswagen AG may post the second-biggest increase among the largest automakers, with a 9.2% gain in combined sales for its Volkswagen and Audi brands, the average of four estimates. Toyota Motor Corp. deliveries probably rose 8.5%, the average of eight estimates.

Ally Financial, formerly known as GMAC Inc. and wholly owned by GM until 2006, probably will lose its lead this year for financing the most new- and used-vehicle sales in the U.S., Bill Muir, the company’s president and head of auto operations, said in an interview. Wells Fargo topped Ally in last year’s third quarter.

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