Pickup Truck Sales Boost Ford, GM in February

DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- The U.S. auto industry continued its gains in February, as Ford's ( F) sales rose 9% while GM ( GM) reported a 7% increase and Chrysler reported a 4% jump.

Sales of the top two U.S. vehicles surged, as Silverado pickup sales gained 29% to 41,643 and Ford F-Series pickup sales rose 15% to 54,489, its best February results since 2007. Ford said pickup trucks accounted for 12.3% of the U.S. auto market in February, up from 10.7% a year earlier.

Forecasters are predicting a single-digit sales increase for the overall industry, which remains a positive indicator of a slowly recovering economy. Ford reported its best February in six years, while Chrysler reported its best February in five years. GM reported its best in five years and said the seasonally adjusted annualized sales rate then was 15.6 million vehicles, similar to today's rate.

In the luxury segment, while Cadillac sales rose 20% to 13,845, Lincoln sales declined 29% to 4,883. GM said Cadillac year-to-date retail sales are the brand's highest since 2006.

"The housing sector has now joined auto sales in propelling the U.S. economy forward," said Kurt McNeil, GM vice president of U.S. sales operations, in a prepared statement. "More importantly, the recovery in new home construction is reinforcing the underlying improvement in auto buying conditions, especially for pickups.

"Light-vehicle sales have now been running at a mid-15 million unit annual rate since November," McNeil noted. He added, "This sets us up well for the launches of key new products this year, including an all-new generation of Chevrolet and GMC full-size pickups and an all-new Chevrolet Impala and Cadillac CTS."

Ford said utility sales rose 21% with car sales up 6% and truck sales up 4%. Ford Fusion sales rose 28% to 27,875. Escape sales rose 29% to 21,110. Explorer sales rose 59% to 16,586. .

At GM, sales rose at all four brands, led by the 20% gain at Cadillac. Buick rose 15% to 16,150. GMC rose 10% to 35,778 and Chevrolet rose 5% to 158,541. In the tough mid-size sedan segment where Fusion competes, Malibu sales lost 26% to 14,817.

Chrysler said sales rose 4% to 139,015, its best February sales since 2008. But sales of Chrysler brand cars fell 7% to 25,083, while Jeep sales fell 16% 31,164. Sales of the Ram pickup, the brand's leading vehicle, rose 3% to 23,285. Dodge brand sales rose 30% to 55,639, with the new Dart selling 7,720 units and Charger sales up 41% to 10,301.

The automaker said sales were hurt by the end of Jeep Liberty production in the third quarter of 2012 and ongoing product launches of the 2014 Grand Cherokee, the Jeep Compass and the Ram Heavy Duty line. As a result of the product launches, Chrysler Group's first-quarter volume is expected to decline from 2012 levels.

"In spite of a cautious ramp up of some of our most popular products which limited inventory last month, we still managed to record our strongest February sales in five years and our 35th-consecutive month of year-over-year sales growth," said Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales, in a prepared statement. "Looking ahead, we expect to get our inventory gaps corrected over the next 90 days resulting in additional products contributing to our growth."

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

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