Ford and Chrysler U.S. light-vehicle sales gain as credit eases

Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC posted U.S. light-vehicle sales gains in February as low interest rates and more-available credit draws buyers to dealerships.

Ford’s deliveries of cars and light trucks climbed 9.3 percent and Chrysler’s increased 4.1 percent, according to company statements. Auburn Hills, Michigan-based Chrysler’s sales have increased 35 consecutive months, matching its longest streak sine the period ending December 1994.

New-car buyers, shunned by lenders just four years ago, now are benefiting from historically low interest rates and better availability of financing. Auto sales have rebounded from the U.S. recession that ended in 2009 more quickly than housing, boosting the economy, and now growth is moderating.

“We’re not seeing explosive growth, but we’re in a fairly solid place,” Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with Edmunds.com, said in an interview yesterday. “President’s Day sales were very good for a lot of dealers.”

U.S. light-vehicle sales probably climbed 3.7 percent in February to 1.19 million, the average estimate of 10 analysts. The annualized industry light-vehicle sales rate, which is adjusted for seasonal trends, may have matched January’s pace of 15.3 million, the average of 15 analysts’ estimates. The February 2012 rate was 14.5 million.

Sales for Chrysler, majority owned by Fiat SpA, increased to 139,015 cars and light trucks from 133,521 a year earlier. The automaker trailed the 4.4 percent gain that was the average of 11 analysts’ estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Ford trailed the 9.8 percent increase that was the average estimate of 11 analysts.

Rates Fall

Chrysler forecast a 15.5 million industry sales pace for February in its statement today, including medium- and heavy- duty vehicles, which typically account for at least 200,000 deliveries per year. Dodge brand sales surged 30 percent as the Dart compact, introduced in June, set a new monthly record of 7,720 deliveries.

Banks reported the most common rate for a 48-month new-car loan was 4.82 percent in November, the most-recent reporting period. The rates have dropped from more than 7 percent before the Fed lowered its target interest rate to zero in December 2008 and began large-scale asset purchases to boost growth.

“No industry has benefited more from the unfreezing of the credit markets than new and used vehicles,” Tom Webb, chief economist of Manheim Consulting, said in a report last month. “Although the immediate goal of Federal Reserve actions was to lower long-term rates and support the mortgage market, it was auto-financing markets that enjoyed the first boosts.”

Supporting Growth

“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 percent gain in combined sales for its Volkswagen and Audi brands, the average of four estimates.

Toyota Motor Corp. deliveries probably rose 8.5 percent, the average of eight estimates. General Motors Co. probably sold 4.9 percent more vehicles than a year earlier, the average of 11 estimates.

Honda Motor Co. may have increased sales in February by 0.7 percent and Nissan Motor Co. deliveries probably slipped 3.3 percent, both the average of eight analysts’ estimates.

Analysts estimate that Seoul-based Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. may have combined to sell 5.1 percent fewer vehicles in February compared with a year earlier, the average of six estimates.

Bloomberg News

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