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Chrysler Has a Good Day and Ford Looks to February (Update 1)

Updated to include premarket trading in Ford shares.

DETROIT (TheStreet) -- Monday was a good day for Chrysler, which ran a commercial that was in the middle of the Super Bowl discussion and then reported an 8% sales gain in January, while overall industry sales fell about 3%.

Ford
(F) and GM (GM) reported sales declines of 7% and 12%, respectively, and both saw share price declines in a broad selloff partially triggered by the auto industry's weak month. Ford shares fell 2.7%, or 41 cents, to $14.55. GM shares fell 2.3% or 83 cents to $35.25. The S&P 500 index also fell 2.3%.

In pre-market trading Tuesday an hour and a half before the opening bell, Ford shares were up eight cents to $14.63.

Automakers attributed the January decline to winter weather. Chrysler, however "had all the right things happening for them," said Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book. "Ram and Jeep are cold-weather friendly brands and the [Jeep] Grand Cherokee is a new vehicle that is good for people in snow."

As for Ford, its January sales declined in the regions with the worst winter weather, particularly the Great Lakes and Central regions, but gained in the West. "We're not weather forecasters, (but) we think because of the strength we saw in January where we had good weather, we think (the decline) will eventually get made up," said Ford analyst Eric Merkle on the company's sales call.

"We expect everything to return to trend given the fundamentals," added John Felice, vice president of U.S. sales, marketing and service. "The moving averages and all of the fundamentals for the industry still look very solid and we expect things to improve as we progress to the first quarter." Felice said Ford retail sales increased by double digits in the West.

Chrysler's Super Bowl commercial featured Bob Dylan, who extolled American and Detroit values. It engendered mixed commentary: The image of Bob Dylan selling cars was not universally welcomed, both because Dylan was once a symbol of rebellion and also because his voice has deteriorated over time. Additionally, some observers pointed out that Chrysler is owned by Italy's Fiat.

At the same time, it is difficult not to be moved by the superbly-made two-minute spot that ran during the third quarter of the game. Dylan concluded by proclaiming: "Let Germany brew your beer. Let Switzerland make your watch. Let Asia assemble your phone. We will build your car."

Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell said the ad "continued the tradition started three years ago when Eminem delivered maybe the most buzz-worthy ad of the game" in the first of four consecutive Chrysler Super Bowl ads focused on Detroit's comeback and bedrock Americanism. "(But) while these emotional ads have a way of resonating with viewers, Chrysler has to wonder whether these sorts of ads are growing stale with potential car shoppers," Caldwell said.

While the Dylan ad increased Chrysler brand consideration on Edmunds.com by 13%, the Eminem add lifted consideration 87% a full week after the ad aired, she said.

Brauer said the ad and the controversy surrounding it speak to the long-standing divide between people who buy cars built by the Detroit Three and cars manufactured by foreign automakers.

"My first thought was this will be a huge hit with domestic fans -- if you buy any of the Big Three, you will love that commercial," Brauer said. "But I don't know how many non-domestic shoppers you convert. It doesn't convert Honda (HMC) and Toyota (TM) people.

"As for calling Dylan a sellout and all that stuff, those are people who will never buy a Chrysler," he said.

Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

To contact this writer,
click here.

Follow @tedreednc

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