U.S. auto sales, led by Toyota Motor Corp. and the Detroit 3, rose 14 percent in January, giving the industry a bigger lift to begin 2013 than analysts expected.
Demand pushed the seasonally adjusted sales rate to 15.3 million, slightly below December’s 15.4-million rate but well above January 2012’s 13.97 million.
The gains in January were widespread, with several automakers reporting robust sales of large pickups, small cars and crossovers. Car and light-truck deliveries each rose 14 percent during the month. Fleet shipments and retail demand were also strong, automakers and analysts say.
Toyota, leading all automakers’ increases, said its combined sales of Toyota, Scion and Lexus models jumped 27 percent. Toyota was helped by big gains for the Prius hybrid line, the new Avalon sedan, the Corolla, and a 26 percent advance in truck deliveries.
Lexus posted a 32 percent increase.
Ford Motor Co.’s U.S. sales rose 22 percent last month, with car volume advancing 34 percent and utility vehicle deliveries rising 23 percent. Ford’s truck sales increased 11 percent.
The company’s U.S. retail sales, helped by new models such as the C-Max hybrid, climbed 24 percent.
Sales at the Ford Division jumped 23 percent, while Lincoln volume dropped 18 percent, reflecting shortages of the new MKZ sedan. It was Ford Motor Co.’s biggest gain in monthly sales since U.S. volume rose 40 percent in September 2010.
Sales rose 16 percent last month at General Motors, with retail volume up 24 percent, the company said. It was GM’s biggest monthly gain since June 2012.
All of GM’s brands posted gains for the month, led by a 47 percent increase at Cadillac, a 32 percent rise at Buick and a 23 percent jump at GMC.
New models such as the Cadillac ATS, Chevrolet Sonic and Buick Verano helped GM.
Sales of GM’s full-sized pickups rose 32 percent to 50,230 units, with inventories, though higher at the end of January, in line with the company’s sales and production plans for 2013, the automaker said.
A 75 percent surge in sales of the Accord, redesigned for 2013, helped Honda Motor Co. post a 13 percent increase in January U.S. deliveries.
Nissan Motor Co. said sales rose 2 percent, with the Nissan brand up 2 percent and Infiniti deliveries advancing 5 percent. Sales of the redesigned Pathfinder SUV and Sentra small car were substantially higher, but demand for the all-new Altima slipped 4 percent.
Hyundai Motor America, citing improved availability of key models, said it set a January sales record of 43,713 units, up 2 percent.
Chrysler Group’s sales were led by Dodge, where volume rose 37 percent, and Fiat, with deliveries rising 31 percent.
Chrysler said its car sales, led by the Dodge Avenger and Dart, and the Fiat 500 line, were up 50 percent, while light-truck deliveries increased 3 percent. Sales of the Dart totaled 7,154, the car’s best month since its June launch, Chrysler said.
Jeep sales dropped 4 percent. It was the fourth consecutive monthly sales decline for Jeep and reflects the discontinuation of the Liberty SUV.
Chrysler’s U.S. sales have now advanced 34 consecutive months, helping the company gain U.S. market share. It is one month short of matching the 35-month sales streak produced in the period ending December 1994.
The company has benefited from new models, fleet shipments and some of the highest incentives in the industry.
Toyota, Ford and Honda are benefiting from the redesign of some of their best-selling models, notably the Honda Accord and CR-V, Ford Fusion and Escape, Lexus ES sedan and Toyota Camry.
The U.S. auto market — an ongoing bright spot in the economy — is expected to grow for a fourth consecutive year in 2013.
The average estimate of 18 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg is for 15.1 million light-vehicle sales this year, up from 14.5 million in 2012.
January is one of the weakest months for new-vehicle sales in terms of volume but some dealers said demand remained strong after healthy December results.
Automakers are counting on pent-up demand, a steady recovery in the U.S. economy, new models, easing credit conditions and low interest rates to further drive sales this year.
The VW brand’s U.S. sales rose 7 percent to 29,018 in January, its smallest gain since volume rose 2 percent in January 2011.
Porsche said it set a January sales record of 3,358 units, up 32 percent, with demand for the Cayenne crossover and 911 particularly strong.
The average car and light truck on U.S. roads is more than 11 years old, automotive consulting firm Polk says.
January sales were also expected to get a lift as consumers replace models damaged or destroyed by superstorm Sandy.
U.S. dealerships will also see about a half-million more new-car shoppers this year who are replacing a vehicle because of an expiring lease, researcher Edmunds.com says.
Volvo, which depends on leasing, said its January sales rose 9 percent to 4,875 units.
About 2 million leases expire this year, Edmunds.com says.
In 2009, with the U.S economy in a deep downturn, leases — which usually last for three years — dropped dramatically.
U.S. consumers entered into about half as many new-vehicle leases in 2009 compared with two years earlier. Leasing bounced back strongly the next year, and those leases are about to expire.