Ford and Chrysler Post January Gains but GM Falls Back (Update 1)

DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- Ford ( F) said January sales rose 7%, while Chrysler sales rose 44%, but GM ( GM) reported a 6% decline as it cut incentive spending.

The results from the Detroit Three were roughly in line with expectations, although Chrysler's sales were somewhat higher than the 34% sales gain forecast by TrueCar.com. Overall, U.S. light vehicle sales are expected to gain 6% to 7% in January.
2012 Ford Focus

Ford said it sold 136,710 vehicles. Focus was Ford's hot car, with sales up 60% to 14,400 vehicles. Sales of the F-Series, the best-selling U.S. vehicle, rose 8% to 38,493 units. Sales of the Escape utility rose 24% to 17,259 units.

Losers included Lincoln brand, where sales fell 8% to 5,121 units; Fusion, with a 5% decline to 13,614 units; and Fiesta with an 18% decline to 3,502 units.

"Last month we saw a shift in the industry to smaller passenger cars and small utilities," said Erich Merkle, Ford sales analyst, on the company's sales call. "The long-term secular trend of Americans moving to smaller vehicles continues to remain intact. He said Fiesta lost ground as small-car buyers moved to Focus. "There's going to be cross-shopping on any dealer lot," he said.

GM reported total sales of 167,962 vehicles in the United States as Chevrolet passenger car sales gained 13%.

"Chevrolet drove our performance once again and sales of our fuel-efficient new cars were especially good," said Don Johnson, vice president, U.S. sales operations, in a prepared statement. "The strength that the economy and the auto industry showed in the fourth quarter carried into January, so we believe the year is off to a good start."

Chrysler said its January sales of 101,149 units was its best January sales total since 2008 and marked its 22nd consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains and its eighth consecutive month of sales gains of at least 20%.

Chrysler brand sales rose 81% as sales of the Chrysler 300 rose 273% to 4,960 units while sales of the new Chrysler 200 totaled 7,007 units.

Meanwhile, Jeep brand sales rose 37% as Wrangler sales rose 23% to 7,896 units and Grand Cherokee sales rose 40% to 10,683 units. Dodge brand sales gained 29% and Ram Truck brand sales rose 42% to 18,470 units.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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