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Severe winter takes shine off Jan. auto sales

Keywords: Tags  U.S. automotive sales, weather, General Motors, Chrysler Group, Nissan Motor, Ford Motor, Toyota Motor Sales USA, Reid Bigland Bill Fay

CHICAGO — The severe weather that has hammered much of the United States this winter chilled auto sales in January.

The top seven automakers sold 862,795 light vehicles in January, a 3.2-percent drop from the same month last year, with Detroit-based General Motors Co. (GM) taking the biggest hit and Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Chrysler Group LLC and Japan’s Nissan Motor Corp. bucking the trend.

"The bad weather only seemed to affect our competitors’ stores, as we had a great January," Reid Bigland, head of Chrysler’s U.S. sales, said in a statement.

January sales fell 24.4 percent compared with December, but December sales figures often get a boost from year-end sales incentives offered by dealerships.

"Record-low temperatures and heavy snowfall had an impact on January sales in some parts of the country. Our sales were actually up in all western and southern areas, (but) couldn’t offset the losses in the Midwest and East Coast, areas hit hardest by the storms," Bill Fay, division group vice president and general manager of Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc., Torrance, Calif., said during a Feb. 3 conference call.

Toyota estimated that January’s seasonally adjusted annual sales rate industrywide was about 15.2 million vehicles, down from 15.4 million in the same month last year.

"We expect the industry to bounce back in February," Fay said. "Most recent economic indicators are good: Consumer spending is up and consumer confidence remains strong. As a result, we expect to see a more normal sales pattern of modest growth in February—as long as the weather cooperates."

Emily Kolinski Morris, senior economist at Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor Co., also forecast a better 2014. Citing the Institute for Supply Management’s purchasing managers index decline for January (, Feb. 3), she noted during a conference call that a number of comments from purchasing managers reflected "optimism about improving sales and business activity in the early part of 2014."

Joblessness continues to decline, she said, although wages were not growing. Nonetheless, Ford projects U.S. sales this year will total between 16 million and 17 million vehicles.

Kurt McNeil, GM’s U.S. vice president of sales, said GM expects light vehicle sales for the year to total 16 million to 16.5 million vehicles, which would be the industry’s best year since 2007, when 16.2 million vehicles were sold.

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