Winter weather largely chills auto sales

Posted by Jerry Hirsch on March 3, 2014 

Auto Sales

A salesmen at a car dealership digs out cars covered in snow on Jan. 7 in Indianapolis as temperatures hovered around zero. Winter weather impacted car sales early in 2014.

MICHAEL CONROY — AP

The big chill created a big stall in auto sales last month.

Based on initial reports by General Motors, Ford Motor, Chrysler Group and other car companies, auto sales looked like they were flat to just slightly higher in February compared to the same month a year earlier.

Automakers estimated they sold roughly 1.2 million vehicles in the U.S. last month, about a 1 percent gain.

Small sport-utility vehicles and four-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles sold best in February, in part because they were the types of autos best matched to the severe winter conditions in much of the nation, automakers said.

GM said its U.S. sales fell 1 percent to 222,104 vehicles last month, compared with February a year earlier.

“Weather continued to impact the industry in February, but GM sales started to thaw during the Winter Olympic Games as our brand and marketing messages took hold,” said Kurt McNeil, GM’s U.S. sales chief.

“Despite a slower start to 2014 than most people expected, we look forward to a very successful year, backed by plenty of new products and what should be the strongest GDP (gross domestic product) growth since the end of the recession,” McNeil said.

Ford sales fell 6 percent to 183,947 vehicles in February.

Sales to fleet customers – rental car companies, commercial users and government agencies – plunged 10 percent as winter weather delayed a portion of the orders. Those sales are expected to rebound this month, the car company said.

“Sales surged in the final week, providing us momentum after a slow start to the month,” said John Felice, Ford vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service.

Vehicles sold well in the regions not impeded by the weather issues, Felice said. That foreshadows “a solid March,” he said.

Chrysler, which has a high percentage of truck and SUV models, did the best of the domestic auto companies.

Chrysler sales rose 11 percent to 154,866 vehicles, the company’s best February sales since 2007.

Toyota Motor Corp. sales fell 4 percent to 159,284 vehicles compared to the same month a year earlier.

“February auto sales emerged from a chill in the second half of the month, poising the industry for a strong March,” said Bill Fay, Toyota’s division group vice president and general manager. “For Toyota, strong truck sales were a highlight this month, with RAV4 and Highlander posting best-ever February results.”

Nissan’s sales also rose nearly 16 percent to 115,360 vehicles. Big discounts and incentives contributed to Nissan’s gain. The average sales price for its vehicles last month fell 2 percent from January to $27,906, according to auto price information company Kelley Blue Book. That was the largest decrease of any automaker, Kelley reported.

Sales of the Volkswagen brand fell 13.8 percent to 27,112 vehicles.

“February was another turbulent month for automakers, with companies like Chrysler and Nissan reporting strong sales growth while most suffered losses due to the continued cold weather,” Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book.

“Most of the factors that have driven auto sales over the past 12 months are still in place,” Brauer said. “But if consumer activity doesn’t pick up in the next few weeks, we’ll likely see an aggressive, industrywide incentive program that could hurt profitability.”

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