US Auto Sales Surge in February – Wall Street Journal

Posted: Tuesday, March 01, 2016

With gasoline prices under $2 a gallon, sales of expensive trucks and sport-utility vehicles continued to drive gains for most auto makers.
ENLARGE

U.S. auto makers posted blockbuster gains in February, driven by a barrage of Presidents Day promotions, an extra day of sales and pent-up demand from a January blizzard that forced many East Coast buyers to delay purchases.

Market watchers Edmunds.com and TrueCar predict auto makers will post their highest U.S. February volume in more than 15 years, with the annualized selling rate expected to hit or exceed 17.5 million.

Ford Motor Co.’s sales shot up 20% over the same month a year earlier to 216,045 vehicles, its highest February retail sales in 11 years. Ford-brand sport-utility vehicles and F-series pickup trucks both recorded their best February performance in a decade.

General Motors Co., the nation’s largest auto maker, reported its sales slipped 1.5% over a year earlier to 227,825 on a 24% reduction in deliveries to fleet buyers such as car rental companies. Its retail sales rose 6.6%.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV posted a 12% rise to 182,879 vehicles in February, extending the Italian-U.S. auto maker’s sales-gains streak to 71 months. Jeep sales shot up 23%, with the Cherokee, Wrangler, Patriot and Compass recording their best February ever. Dodge sales picked up 12%, with the Journey and Challenger also logging their best-ever sales for the month.

Nissan Motor Co. logged an 11% sales increase to 130,911 light vehicles. Crossovers, trucks and SUVs skipped up 14% to a February record.

Low fuel prices, easy credit and improving U.S. employment are helping to keep new-car demand aloft, following six years of uninterrupted growth and a record U.S. sales year in 2015. With gasoline prices under $2 a gallon, sales of expensive trucks and SUVs continued to drive gains for most auto makers. Edmunds.com says trucks and SUVs outsold cars for the 30th straight month and light trucks made up 60% of the vehicles sold in February.

Average transaction prices rose 2.2% year-over-year, according to Kelley Blue Book, as consumers hop into larger, pricier models.

Still, investors have fled the sector of late, sending U.S. auto stocks falling amid worries the car market has peaked, and there are some red flags that underlying consumer demand is starting to soften. TrueCar estimates the industry’s average incentive spending climbed 11% in February to nearly $3,000 per vehicle.

Most other auto makers are forecast to post sales gains for the month with the exception of Volkswagen AG, which has halted U.S. sales of diesel cars because of an emissions-cheating scandal.

Write to Anne Steele at Anne.Steele@wsj.com and Christina Rogers at christina.rogers@wsj.com

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