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January auto sales signal strong 2013

Keywords: Tags  automotive sales, General Motors, Toyota, Ford, Chrysler, Bill Fay, Kurt McNeil, Ken Czubay market share

CHICAGO — Light vehicle sales in the United States by the top seven automakers improved 15.6 percent in January from the same month last year, and were up 54.8 percent from January 2010, according to an AMM analysis. Last month’s sales were down 21.6 percent from nearly 1.14 million vehicles in December, but the end-of-year holidays are considered a prime auto purchasing period.

"The sales pace we saw in the fourth quarter of last year rolled into January, exceeding our expectations for the industry," Bill Fay, general manager at Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc., said during the automaker’s monthly sales call. "That’s especially good news because we think everyone was a little apprehensive about the start of the year, given the fiscal-cliff debates, (income) tax rates and because January is normally a slower month."

Toyota and General Motors Co. each said last month was the best industry start since 2008.

"We expect continued stability in the economy to bode well for the industry in the months ahead, with pent-up demand, an influx of new models and great value combining to bring people into dealerships," Fay said.

"It was a very solid month for GM," Kurt McNeil, vice president of U.S. sales operations, said during a conference call. "Last month we said the runway was clear for full-year light vehicle sales of 15 million to 15.5 million units, and January results certainly bear that out, that we are on track. We continue to recover strongly from the recession despite the headwinds of higher taxes and lower government spending."

McNeil said GM’s outlook factored in pent-up demand, a new product lineup and auto show buzz. "We saw a 37-percent increase in sales to small businesses (in January), which buy up to four vehicles at a time, and they overwhelmingly purchased pickups," said McNeil, keeping GM where it wants to be in terms of pickup truck production, sales and inventory strategy.

Ford Motor Co. "is off to a strong start this year, with Fusion and Escape delivering January sales records and F-Series (pickups) seeing a particularly strong reception this early in the year," Ken Czubay, vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, said during Ford’s monthly sales call.

The Detroit-area Big Three—GM, Ford and Chrysler Group LLC—accounted for 53.7 percent of January’s sales by the top seven automakers, up from 52.6 percent a year earlier.

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