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Auto sales in the U.S. rose modestly by 3.7% year-over-year to 1.19 million vehicles in February. This translated into a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 15.4 million units for the year, up about 2% from 15.1 million units registered in the same month of 2012.

Sadly, the growth rate in sales came at the lower end of the 4%–6% projection made by TrueCar.com and Edmunds.com few days back. This can be attributable to rising gas prices (up 36 cents to $3.78 per gallon in February) and turbulence in the stock market. However, improving construction market, cheap financing and strong pent-up demand kept the recovery in the U.S. auto industry on track.

Unlike January, U.S. automaker Ford Motor Co. (F - Analyst Report) topped all the automakers in terms of sales growth. Let us take a look at the key automakers’ sales.

U.S. Automakers

Ford’s sales rose 9.3% to 195,310 vehicles, driven by impressive sales of its Escape SUV and Fusion sedan. Escape sales soared 29% while Fusion sales surged 28% during the month. Together, the vehicles contributed more than a quarter of the company’s monthly sales.

General Motors Company (GM - Analyst Report) posted a 7.2% rise in sales to 224,314 vehicles in February, driven by strong Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks sales like January. Sales of Chevrolet Silverado leapt 29% while that of GMC Sierra sales jumped 25% during the month.

Chrysler Group – controlled by Italy’s Fiat SpA – sales increased 4.1% to 139,015 vehicles. Sales of its Ram pickup increased 3% but sales of its Jeep sport utility vehicles ebbed 16% during the month.

Japanese Automakers

Toyota Motor Corp. (TM - Analyst Report) saw a disappointing 4.3% rise in sales to 166,377 vehicles compared to its earlier performance as its popular car sales dipped 3% and its less popular sport utility vehicles and truck sales rose 16% during the month. Despite higher gas prices, sales of its Prius hybrid went down 13.5%.

Honda Motor Co. (HMC - Analyst Report) recorded a 2.0% drop in sales to 107,987 vehicles as steep declines of its CR-V crossover and Civic small car sales offset its strong 35% rise in new Accord sales. The company also attributed heavy winter storms in the Northeast to the decline in sales.

Nissan Motor Co. (NSANY) posted a 6.6% fall in sales to 99,636 vehicles as sales in both its namesake and Infiniti divisions went down during the month. Sales of its new Pathfinder SUV more than doubled and that of its Leaf electric car surged 37% after the company dropped the price, but sales of its other cars and SUVs declined during the month.

Other Automakers

Among the other automakers, sales of Volkswagen AG (VLKAY) inched up 2.9% to 31,456 vehicles, driven by strong sales of its Audi luxury-brand vehicles (28%). Sales of the new Beetle nearly tripled during the month.

Hyundai Motor Co.’s sales edged up 2.3% to 52,311 vehicles. The increase was attributable to a 64% rise of the new Santa Fe crossover sales.  

Outlook

Strong pent-up demand, easier car finance and improving macroeconomic conditions will continue to act as a catalyst to rejuvenate U.S. auto sales to the pre-recession level. Good news is that improving auto sales will also help the overall economic recovery in the U.S. being a key industry for growth. Full year sales are expected to exceed 15 million units compared with 14.5 million units in 2012.

GM expects a 7% rise in industry sales in 2013. Meanwhile, Ford predicted an 8% gain in the year, which reflects more than a threefold rise compared with the overall economic growth of 2%–2.5% projected by the automaker.
 

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