By TOM KRISHER and DEE-ANN DURBIN
DETROIT (AP) â¿¿ Most of the big car companies are reporting double-digit gains for January as last year's momentum in U.S. auto sales continues into 2013.
Sales at Toyota rose 27 percent and they jumped 22 percent at Ford. GM and Chrysler each reported 16 percent gains compared with a year earlier. It was Chrysler's best January in five years.
But Volkswagen, which reported a 31 percent increase in 2012, saw sales slow a bit, growing only 7 percent.
Other automakers report sales later Friday. The figures so far indicate that Americans bought new vehicles at a strong pace last month, as the industry remains a bright spot in a tepid U.S. economic recovery.
"The sales pace we saw in the fourth quarter of last year rolled into January, exceeding our expectations for the industry," Bill Fay, Toyota Division group vice president, said in a statement.
Chrysler estimates that total U.S. industry sales hit an annual rate of 15.5 million in January. If that holds for the rest of the year, automakers will sell 1 million more vehicles than in 2012, when sales rose 13 percent.
Analysts are expecting sales for all of 2013 to reach 15 million to 15.5 million. Although still far from the recent peak of about 17 million in 2005, the industry could sell a whopping 5 million more cars and trucks than it did in 2009, the worst year in at least three decades.
At Ford, the growth was led by the Fusion midsize car, which saw a 65 percent increase. Explorer SUV sales rose 46 percent. Sales of the F-Series pickup truck, the top-selling vehicle in the U.S., rose 22 percent.
GM's Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra each saw increases of over 30 percent while sales of the Ram pickup, Chrysler's top-selling vehicle, rose 14 percent from a year earlier. Those gains give a strong indication that businesses are replacing aging pickup trucks that they kept through the Great Recession.