Chrysler posts highest January sales since 2008

Chrysler Group LLC said January car sales of 117,731 were the best since 2008 and projected industry sales during the month grew at an annual rate of 15.5 million.

All Chrysler brands except Jeep reported year-on-year sales gains, with the Dodge brand up 37 percent from a year ago.

Jeep sales were down 4 percent, as Chrysler - controlled by Fiat - phases out the Liberty model and prepares to launch its successor later this year.

Total Chrysler sales rose 16 percent from 101,149 a year ago.

Sales of the Fiat 500 jumped 31 percent to 2,503, while the Dodge Dart hit 7,154, the highest level since the car's introduction last June.

Chrysler is the first automaker to release January sales. Its projected annual rate includes sales of heavy trucks.

U.S. auto sales are expected to continue the strong pace set at the end of last year, with industry sales rising as much as 15 percent due to an improving housing market and pent-up demand for cars and trucks.

The industry is expected to report today an annual sales rate in January of 15.3 million vehicles, according to analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. The figure does not include heavy trucks, which account for around 300,000 sales a year.

(Additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by David Holmes)