Auto makers said Tuesday that their U.S. sales grew in January, typically a slower month for the industry, as strong demand trends appear likely to continue into the new year.
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The auto industry is in the midst of a strong run of monthly sales improvements as U.S. consumers, armed with more cash because of lower gasoline prices, are more confident about the economic outlook. Now, the market is looking to see whether the sector can continue its torrid growth this year.
"In spite of some tough 2015 comparisons, we remain confident in our ability to post year-over-year sales increases on the back of strong retail demand for our products," said Reid Bigland, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' head of U.S. sales.
Chrysler, General Motors Co. and Nissan Motor Co. all posted double-digit increases in January.
Much of the continued strength in the industry comes from higher sales of sport-utility vehicles and trucks, which benefit from declining fuel prices. Market observers expect auto makers will bet on sustained lower oil prices and will ramp up production of heavier vehicles this year.
Automotive information provider Kelley Blue Book said transaction prices of new light vehicles have grown 5% to $33,993 since January of last year, although they fell 1.7% from December. GM and Ford Motor Co. are benefiting the most from the increased demand for trucks and utility vehicles, the firm added.
GM said it sold 202,786 vehicles in January, an increase of 18%. Its Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck registered a 25% increase, while its Equinox and Traverse SUVs also enjoyed strong sales growth. Sales of the large Suburban SUV more than doubled.
The company's GMC brand, which focuses mainly on trucks and SUVs, posted a 29% sales gain.
Fiat Chrysler, whose consistent double-digit monthly sales increases have been driven by sales of its Jeep and Ram brands, said it sold 145,007 vehicles during January, an increase of 14%.
Chrysler said its truck sales rose 13% to 105,119 vehicles, and car sales improved 17% to 39,888 units. The Ram brand reported a 14% increase in sales, its best January performance since 1999, the company said. The Jeep brand posted its best January ever with 23% sales growth.
Nissan, which includes the luxury Infiniti brand, said it sold 104,107 vehicles in the U.S. during January, an increase of 15%. Truck sales jumped 16%, and car sales rose 14%
Sales of the Murano crossover vehicle rose 72% last month as the company unveiled its new model.
Chrysler projected total industry sales in the U.S. to be a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 17 million units, while GM projected 16.6 million.