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February Car Sales Strong—Will The Momentum Continue?

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(credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

(credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

jeffgilbert Jeff Gilbert
Automotive reporter for WWJ Newsradio 950 and CBS Radio News....
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DETROIT (WWJ) - Car and truck sales posted solid gains in February, as consumers appeared to ignore higher gasoline prices, and the loud debate from Washington over budget cuts.

“I think we’re starting to step on the gas for 2013,” said analyst Jeff Schuster of LMC Automotive.

Schuster says another month with an annual sales rate around  $15.5 million, is a good sign that consumers are not letting budget jitters keep them out of showrooms.

“Frankly I think consumers are fed up with some of the antics going on on both sides of the fence in Washington,” he said. “They appear to be going about their business and buying cars.”


Interview: LMC Automotive analyst Jeff Schuster talks ábout February car sales.

All three domestic car companies posted sales increases. Ford sales rose 9 percent, GM saw a 7 percent sales increase. Chrysler sales were up 4 percent.

“Despite what’s going on in Washington, we still feel pretty good about the economy,” said GM Sales Operations Manager Kurt McNeil.


Interview: WWJ’s Jeff Gilbert talks with GM Sales Operations Manager Kurt McNeil.

Ford Chief Economist Ellen Hughes-Cromwick said consumer confidence continued rising in February, even as the federal government neared mandatory budget cuts referred to as sequestration.

“I think it’s encouraging to see that consumers may have a little bit of nerves of steel in light of the sequestration.”


Interview: Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds.com

Ford also said it’s raising production by nine percent in the second quarter. Huges-Cromwick says, at first, the only impact federal cuts might have on car sales would likely be limited to the Washington, DC area.


Interview: Jesse Toprak, TrueCar.com

For Chrysler, the four percent sales gain was the 35th consecutive year over year increase, tying a record set in the 80’s.

“In spite of a cautious ramp up of some of our most popular products which limited inventory last month, we still managed to record our strongest February sales in five years and our 35th consecutive month of year-over-year sales growth,” said Reid Bigland, Head of U.S. Sales. “Looking ahead, we expect to get our inventory gaps corrected over the next 90 days resulting in additional products contributing to our growth.”

The solid report at Chrysler was anchored by a great month for both Dodge and Jeep. The small Dodge Dart, which had been off to a slow start, saw an 8 percent sales increase from January to February.

Chrysler warns, however, that its sales streak could end in March, when they expect that several model changeovers could limit availability.

“While Chrysler Group extended its streak of year-over-year sales gains in February to 35-consecutive months, sales and shipment volumes for the first quarter of 2013 are being negatively affected by the end of Jeep Liberty production in Q3 2012 and the on-going product launches during the quarter of the new 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Jeep Compass, and the new 2013 Ram Heavy Duty truck line,” read a statement from the company.

Toyota sales rose 4 percent, Volkswagen sales were up 3 percent–but it was the company’s best February in 40 years. Hyundai sales rose 2 percent. Nissan sales fell 6.6 percent.

The months of double-digit increases are over for the Japanese carmakers, because they are now being compared with a relatively strong 2012, instead of a 2011 that was impacted by natural disasters.

Jessica Caldwell, who’s a senior analyst with Edmunds.com, says we’re entering a period where most changes in sales will be in the single digits, and playing field between the domestics and the imports will be more level.

“The pendulum is more in the middle between domestics and some of the Asian automakers,” she said. “It really comes down to product. It seems as if he companies with good product are doing well.”

And, GM’s Kurt McNeil says when a customer sees a product they want, and can afford, they aren’t going to let the budget debate stop them.

“They’ve seen this Washington dance play out a number of times now, so it’s not new news to them. I think they know at the end of the day there will be some type of resolution.”

Analsyt Jesse Toprak of TrueCar.com says sales should remain strong, because the underlying fundamentals in the economy are strong.

“A lot of the fundamentals that fueled car buying over the last year are still with us,” he said. “Pent up demand, replacement demand, low financing offer, the availability of more financing, and some of the most exciting choices of cars and trucks n the showrooms are bringing people back to showrooms.”

Connect with Jeff Gilbert
Email: jdgilbert@cbs.com
Facebook: facebook.com/carchronicles
Twitter: @jefferygilbert

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