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Automakers bullish as Feb. sales jump

Keywords: Tags  Auto sales, General Motors, Ford Motors, Toyota, pickup trucks, corinna petry

CHICAGO — The top-selling automakers in the United States sold nearly 1.03 million vehicles in February, a 3.3-percent improvement from the same month last year and 15.2 percent higher than the previous month.

Year-to-date sales of nearly 1.92 million vehicles were 8.7 percent ahead of the first two months of last year, according to an AMM analysis

"Clearly, 2013 is off to a very good start for both General Motors and the industry as a whole," Kurt McNeil, vice president of U.S. sales operations for Detroit-based General Motors Co., said during the automaker’s sales call. "It now appears likely that the light vehicle annual selling rate was in the 15.5-million-unit range in February. We have not seen a February this strong since 2008, when the light-vehicle SAAR (seasonally adjusted annual rate) was 15.6 million (units), but the difference between then and now is that the escalator is heading up and not down."

Buying fundamentals are healthy despite fiscal and structural headwinds. "For example, the recovery in home prices is building customer confidence, credit is available and affordable, and consumers appear to be taking higher payroll taxes in stride, at least when it comes to replacing older vehicles," McNeil said. "A significant tailwind for our industry is new home construction, which is creating jobs and fueling the demand for pickups."

Looking into March and the second quarter, GM will soon launch the new GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado pickups. "This will begin a rolling cadence across our three pickup (assembly) plants that will continue into the third quarter," McNeil said.

The company held 97 days of pickup truck inventory at the end of February. "We are not contemplating any changes to our production given our strong performance and favorable outlook," he said.

"The stability we’ve seen in the marketplace in recent months continued in February, with the industry overcoming rising gas prices, severe winter storms and ongoing concerns about the budgetary process," Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. group vice president and general manager Bill Fay said. "March is usually one of the best months of the year, so we intend to keep the momentum going."

Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor Co. said it expects to build 800,000 vehicles in North America during the second quarter, up 9 percent from the same period last year.

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