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Major automakers exceed sales estimates in February

By Tim Higgins and Mark Clothier
Bloomberg News

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General Motors joined Chrysler and Nissan in beating analysts’ estimates for February U.S. sales while Ford, Toyota and Honda did worse than projected.

Chrysler and Nissan gains were driven largely by sport utility vehicles while GM saw improved deliveries of Chevrolet cars and Buick models that helped make up for declines by its trucks. Ford said dealers struggled to sell small cars in another frigid weather month across much of the country.

Light-vehicle sales in the U.S. remained little changed in February compared with the same month a year ago, reaching 1.2 million while the annualized selling pace, adjusted for seasonal trends, matched last year’s 15.3 million units, according to researcher Autodata Corp. The average of 13 analyst estimates was for an annualized rate of 15.4 million.

“Heading into February, our expectations were very low, we were expecting another down month, similar to what we saw in January,” said Alec Gutierrez, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, in a telephone interview. “Given some of the challenges that we saw with the month, I would classify this as a good month for the industry and sets us up for a very strong March.”

GM’s U.S. sales slipped 1 percent to 222,104, beating analysts’ estimates for a 7.7 percent decline. The Detroit-based automaker reported Buick sales increased 19 percent, helped by deliveries of the Regal sedan, up 49 percent, and the Encore sport utility vehicle, up 93 percent.

Ford’s U.S. light-vehicle deliveries fell 6.1 percent to 183,349, missing the average of nine analyst estimates in a survey by Bloomberg News for a 5.3 percent decline. Toyota sales slid 4.3 percent, to 159,284, a bigger decline than the 2.5 percent drop estimated by six analysts.

Chrysler deliveries rose 11 percent to 154,866 with its Jeep SUV brand increasing sales by 47 percent. The third-largest U.S. automaker beat the average of five analyst estimates for an 8.8 percent gain.

Nissan deliveries, including its Infiniti luxury brand, rose 16 percent last month to 115,360, beating analysts’ estimates that projected a 12 percent gain. Rogue SUV sales rose 73 percent to 17,197 while Nissan’s namesake brand trucks as a whole gained 33 percent.

Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of both Chrysler and Fiat SpA, is relying on the U.S. company’s Jeep Cherokee and revamped Chrysler 200 family sedan to fuel profit this year for the group. Chrysler said it sold 11,795 of its Cherokee sport-utility vehicles in its fifth month in the market, and 12,691 of its larger Grand Cherokee, helping the company to extend its streak of year-over-year sales gains to 47 consecutive months.

While Buick saw sales increases last month, GM’s Cadillac brand slipped 2.9 percent as ATS compact sedan deliveries fell 28 percent to 2,427 and the bigger redesigned CTS sedan declined 2.2 percent.

GM’s Chevrolet and GMC brands also failed to post gains even as Chevy’s Cruze, Malibu and Sonic cars reported increases. Chevrolet Silverado pickup sales decreased 12 percent.

U.S. sales of Mercedes-Benz rose 2.6 percent to 22,609, a February record, while deliveries by BMW rose 3.3 percent to 22,017, the automakers said in separate statements.

Honda sales, including those of its Acura luxury brand, fell 7 percent to 100,405.

Hyundai and affiliate Kia had combined deliveries that fell 3.8 percent to 90,221.

Volkswagen and Audi brands reported a combined 10 percent drop in sales.

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