U.S. Car Sales Rise 3.1% in January

Times Staff Writer

Thanks to a strong showing early in the month, U.S. auto sales rose 3.1% in January despite a decline in the final 10 days of the month, auto makers reported Tuesday.

Industry analysts dismissed the late-January decline as a minor fluctuation in what they predict will be a year of relatively strong sales.

Total U.S. car sales, including imports, rose to 834,037, compared to 778,019 in January, 1984, an increase of 3.1% on a daily selling rate basis.

Car sales are calculated on the basis of the daily sales rate because there were 26 selling days in January this year, compared to 25 selling days in 1984.

The six domestic manufacturers reported that they sold 628,037 cars last month, compared to 583,429 in 1984--a 3.5% increase.

New-cars sales of 24,155 per day for U.S. producers was the best January pace since 1979. But sales of domestically built automobiles fell 4.1% in the Jan. 21-31 period.

An estimated 206,000 imported cars were sold during the month, up 1.7% from last year. Imports took 24.9% of the total U.S. market in January, compared to 25% in January, 1984.

Imports registered a 23.5% market share for all of last year.

John Hammond, an auto analyst at Data Resources Inc., a Lexington, Mass., economic forecasting firm, said strong sales in January should be "reassuring" for domestic manufacturers.

He said the domestic firms will be better able to gauge the strength of the market now that supplies of new cars are plentiful for the first time in six months.

Shortages had developed as a result of strikes against General Motors Corp., the largest auto maker.

"There are still pockets of weakness; the drop in oil prices won't help Volkswagen or American Motors Corp. (which rely heavily on small cars)," Hammond said.

VW sales fell 21.7% in January, while AMC sales fell 32.7%.

The pace of domestic car sales in January translates into an 8.6 million seasonally adjusted annual rate, up from December's rate of 8 million units.

Imports sold at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 2.6 million in January.

The annual rate is a reflection of the number of cars that would be sold if the current pace were to continue for a full year.

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