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Car Sales Begin To Show February Thaw

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(credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

(credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

jeffgilbert Jeff Gilbert
Automotive reporter for WWJ Newsradio 950 and CBS Radio News....
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DETROIT — (WW)February car and truck sales are showing significant improvement from January, but aren’t yet completely out of the deep freeze. While the numbers aren’t exceptionally strong, they are better than expected.

“Certainly a pleasant surprise given the adverse weather conditions across the U.S.,” said Kelley Blue Book analyst Alec Gutierrez.”

General Motors, which was expected to be hit hard in February, saw its sales drop about one percent.

“Last month, when everybody was hit by the polar vortex, we said ‘This too, shall melt,” said GM spokesman Jim Cain.

Chrysler, meanwhile, posting another year-over-year sales jump, 11 percent.

“The severe weather has been ideally suited for our legendary Jeep 4×4 capability as Jeep brand sales were up 47 percent and the brand had its best February sales ever,” said Reid Bigland, Head of U.S. Sales. “Overall February was another solid month for Chrysler Group as our total sales were up 11 percent and we achieved our 47th-consecutive month of year-over-years sales growth.”

The Jeep brand lead the way, with another strong performance from the new Cherokee.

“I think it’s been a great sales vehicle for them,” said analyst Larry Dominique of Truecar.com. “They’ve just been quietly and in almost every segment they are playing in, creeping up, doing a little bit better.”

Ford sales dropped six percent. But, the company says they saw good momentum as February went on.

“Sales surged in the final week, providing us momentum after a slow start to the month,” said
John Felice, Ford vice president, U.S. marketing, sales and service. “Ford Fusion continued its
strong retail sales performance in the West, outpacing the mid-size sedan segment. F-Series
and Lincoln also continued to perform well.”

Ford was helped by a resurgence of its Lincoln brand. Lincoln sales rose 36 percent.

Nissan sales, meanwhile, rose 15 percent. Toyota sales dropped 4 percent. Most other brands also showed slight sales drops from February of 2013.

Analysts see February’s report as a slight improvement from January, but nothing to celebrate.

“When the weather doesn’t behave, it has a negative impact on car shoppers who are looking for an easy and smooth process at the dealership, so that’s why sales will be weak for a second month in a row,” says Edmunds.com Sr. Analyst Jessica Caldwell. “But as the weather improves – a lot like we saw this past week – dealerships will be filled with eager shoppers. The strength of pent-up demand promises to keep sales on the right path as spring approaches.”

Still, with sales improving as February went on, the remains a feeling that March could be a strong month.

“The big message form February is there is this deferred demand,” said Edmunds analyst Jeremy Acevedo. “We do have customers laying in wait for the right opportunity to go out and buy a vehicle.”

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

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