DETROIT (AP) — Despite snowy weather in the Northeast that kept buyers shoveling driveways and not shopping for cars, January auto sales in the United States are expected to come in higher than a year ago.
Sales could rise 15 percent to 17 percent compared with last January, a sign that auto sales are continuing their slow, steady recovery from 2009, when sales bottomed out.
Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and other car companies will report January sales throughout the day Tuesday.
Sales were up in December and for all of 2010, coming in at 11.6 million for the year. That's still a pretty dismal figure compared with the 16.1 million cars and trucks sold in 2007, before the recession took hold. But it's an improvement over 2009, when sales hit 10.4 million.
"What's even more encouraging is that this month's figures were less dependent on fleet sales than last year," said Edmunds.com senior analyst Jessica Caldwell.
Fleet sales are cars sold in bulk to companies or daily rental firms. Sometimes the automakers push rental companies to take more cars than they need in an attempt to boost sales. The decline in fleet sales means 2011 is already seeing more robust car demand from individual buyers, Caldwell said. And sales to individuals are often more profitable than fleet sales.
Barclays Capital analyst Brian Johnson said he expects Ford, Nissan, Honda and Chrysler will post the biggest sales increases compared with last year. General Motors could have a weaker month, because they had strong sales in December fueled by hefty rebates. Customers who would have bought cars or trucks in January likely bought vehicles in December to take advantage of those rebates.
Toyota's sales should come in higher than last year. Last January was a weak month because concerns over sudden acceleration recalls became big news. Toyota issued a recall on Jan. 21, and then on Jan. 26 the company stopped selling eight of its most popular models until it found a remedy for sticky accelerator pedals. Edmunds.com says Toyota's sales could be up 18.8 percent compared with last year.