Automakers had a good January, continuing a trend that saw sales strengthen in the latter months of last year.
"The consumer mood is improving but not at a very fast rate. If you talk to dealers, the activity in showrooms is good,” said Jonathan Browning, chief executive of Volkswagen of America.
Analysts said the annual sales pace in January was in the low-to mid-13-million range and that sales looked to be about 6% above the same month in 2010.
"It looks like a decent bump," said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with auto information company Edmunds.com.
Chrysler Group said its sales rose 44%, to 101,149 vehicles. It was the automaker’s best January in four years, and the report came on a day when Chrysler said it had a 2011 profit of $183 million, its first annual gain since emerging from bankruptcy in 2009. The profit compared with a loss of $652 million in 2010.
Volkswagen also had a good month. The automaker said U.S. sales of the VW brand reached 27,209 vehicles, a 48% gain from January of 2010. It was VW's best January in 38 years, Browning said.
VW has seen strong sales of its redesigned Passat sedan. Earlier this week, Volkswagen said it would add 200 jobs at its factory in Chattanooga, Tenn., to increase its production rate of the vehicle to 35 cars per hour, from 31.
Ford Motor Co. said its U.S. sales in January totaled 136,710 vehicles, a 7% gain.
The automaker’s core Ford brand logged is best January since 2008 with an 8% sales increase compared with the same month a year ago. But Ford’s luxury Lincoln brand continues to struggle. Sales fell 8% during the month.
Of the major automakers, General Motors Co. was the first of the initial group reporting to post a sales decrease. GM said its sales fell 6%, to 167,692 vehicles. Sales were nearly flat at Chevrolet, its biggest brand, and fell at Buick, Cadillac and GMC.
Analysts weren’t surprised that GM, the nation’s largest automaker, had a sales decrease. It had a particularly robust January 2011, when it offered aggressive sales incentives and discounts.