Ford Motor Co. reported a 43% U.S. sales gain in February as it leaped over rival General Motors Co. in monthly sales, according to Automotive News.
Ford sold 142,006 light vehicles last month — 471 more than GM, which advanced 12%. It was Ford’s fifth straight monthly increase in its home market.
The last time Ford topped GM in monthly sales appears to have been July 1998, when GM was crippled by a strike at its Delphi parts unit. GM has been No. 1 annually since 1931.
On an industrywide basis, analysts expect U.S. auto sales to be near a seasonally adjusted annual rate of about 10.4 million, down from January but higher than year-earlier levels when sales rates were near the bottom of the deepest downturn in almost three decades.
Heavy snow froze dealership traffic in many mid-Atlantic states for several days in February, further depressing sales in “what is proving to be a very fragile recovery,” said Jack Nerad, an analyst for Kelley Blue Book’s kbb.com.
The month’s big question was how much sales at Toyota Motor Corp. were affected by its recalls. Grappling with its biggest safety crisis in history, Toyota is expected to be one of only two major automakers — along with Chrysler Group — to report sales declines for the month.
The industry tracking firm Edmunds.com sees Toyota’s market share dropping to 12.6% in February, its lowest level since July 2005. The world’s biggest automaker accounted for 17% of U.S. sales for all of 2009.
Far from 2008
While GM’s overall February sales rose, demand is still about half of pre-recession levels. GM sold 141,535 light vehicles last month, vs. 268,737 in February 2008.
A combined 33% advance at Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC more than made up for an 86% drop at the automaker’s four canceled brands: Hummer, Pontiac, Saab and Saturn. GM released its results four hours earlier than usual today.
Ford’s February climb came on top of a 25% January increase and a 33% rise in December.
Subaru, the only brand to lift U.S. sales in each of the past two years, soared 38% in February.
“The pace of the recovery has hit a speed bump,” Jeff Schuster, forecasting director at J.D.Power and Associates, said before today’s results were released.
“This hiccup appears to be the result of consumers waiting out the Toyota recalls and winter storms impacting showroom traffic.”
U.S. auto sales are expected to rise more than 10% to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of about 10.5 million vehicles in February, according to analysts surveyed by Reuters. A Bloomberg News poll of eight analysts projected a SAAR of 10.3 million.
That would mark an improvement from 9.05 million a year earlier but a decline from 10.5 million in January.
Analysts expect Toyota’s February sales to drop at least 10% from the previous February.
Ford, Nissan Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Co. were projected to be the big winners, posting sales gains of 20-40% in February, according to Edmunds.com. The analysts surveyed by Bloomberg had pegged Ford’s gain at 33%.
But dealers and analysts said rivals have had limited success in poaching customers from Toyota, with most customers delaying any decision to abandon the automaker.
“There is a wait-and-see approach by Toyota loyalists,” said Chris Hopson, an analyst with IHS Global Insight. “They want to see how this plays out before making a buying decision.”
Toyota shut down sales of its most popular vehicles in the last week of January, including Camrys and Corollas, while dealers fixed sticky accelerator pedals in the recalled vehicles.