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Chrysler, Extolled by Bob Dylan, Teases Rivals on January Sales

Updated to include Ford January sales total and comment.

DETROIT (TheStreet) -- Experts expect automakers to report January sales gains around 1%, which may be viewed as one more disappointing economic indicator, but Chrysler has bucked the trend.

Chrysler, the first automaker to report on Monday morning, said January sales rose 8%. The report came the morning after Chrysler once again won kudos for a Super Bowl advertisement extolling American auto producers.

Automakers said tepid January sales reflect harsh weather conditions around the country. Ford (F) said January sales fell 7%. But Chrysler teased its competitors on Monday. 

"The bad weather only seemed to affect our competitors' stores as we had a great January, with sales up 8% and achieved our 46th consecutive month of year-over-year sales increases," said Reid Bigland, Chrysler head of U.S. sales, in a prepared statement.

Chrysler Group said sales rose 8% to 127,183, the highest January total since 2008. Chrysler, Jeep, Ram Truck, and Fiat brands all posted gains, led by Jeep's 38% increase to 41,910 units. But Dodge sales fell 19% to 34,905 units.

Sales of the Ram pickup truck, the best-selling Chrysler Group vehicle, rose 22% to 25,071. Sales of the Chrysler 300 fell 41% to 3,145, but sales of the smaller Chrysler 200 rose 23% to 10,912.

Edmunds.com had estimated Chrysler sales would rise 9%. But Edmunds said "the relentless blast of winter weather likely kept car shoppers away from dealerships in January" and forecast that overall January sales would decline by 0.6%, with GM (GM) and Ford showing the biggest declines.

Ford reported that January sales fell 7% to 154,644 units, while retail sales fell 5% to 113,721 units.

"Given the difficult weather in our largest sales regions, we are fortunate to have held in at retail as well as we did," said John Felice, Ford vice president, U.S. marketing, sales and service, in a prepared statement. "The poor weather also had an impact on the timing of some of our fleet deliveries." 

Meanwhile, Chrysler scored with a Super Bowl add that featured Bob Dylan, who proclaimed, "Let Germany brew your beer. Let Switzerland make your watch. Let Asia assemble your phone. We will build your car."

The commercial ran during the third quarter, which means viewership may have been less than expected due to the lopsided Super Bowl score. Dylan quickly began to trend on Twitter, as viewers debated the appropriateness of having a leading American rebel sell cars.

The ad itself, in keeping with Chrysler's recent tradition, offered a gutsy, heartfelt vision of Detroit and seemed to once again capture the spirit of America, as Chrysler famously did with its 2011 Super Bowl commercial featuring Eminem and its 2012 "Halftime in America" ad starring Clint Eastwood.

The Super Bowl ads by the Fiat-owned automaker continue to show, as Alexis de Tocqueville once did, that sometimes Europeans have the clearest visions of America.

Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.


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