Automakers on Tuesday reported January sales results that grew by 13.7 percent from the same period a year ago to 1.15 million and continued 2014's strong auto sales momentum with a pace in January that was the highest since 2006, according to Autodata Corp.

Detroit's automakers on Tuesday posted double-digit sales increases compared to a January a year ago, led by General Motors Co.'s 18.3 percent gain, as buyers continued to migrate toward SUVs and trucks.

"We're singing the same song we did in 2014, we're just singing it louder," Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for AutoTrader.com, told reporters Tuesday.

Buyers took advantage of low gas prices, easy access to credit and confidence in the economy and their jobs to buy vehicles, particularly full-size trucks, crossovers and SUVs. Better weather than a year ago also aided sales, as January 2014 results were hampered by bitter weather.

"(It's) definitely a very, very strong start to the year," said Alec Gutierrez, a senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, in a call with reporters.

Many industry forecasters are calling for U.S. auto sales to reach 17 million in 2015 after hitting 16.52 million last year.

Ford Motor Co. saw January sales jump 15.6 percent to 177,441, while FCA US LLC, formerly Chrysler Group LLC, also posted a 14 percent sales gain in January to 145,007. Ford sold 54,370 F-Series pickups last month, up 16.8 percent in January, marking the best January for F-Series since 2004. Ford said 18 percent of F-150 retail sales last month were the 2015 aluminum-bodied model and stock will continue to build through mid-year. The trucks currently are selling in just 12 days once on dealer lots.

FCA was led by the Jeep brand's 22.9 percent sales increase, while Ram pickup sales also jumped 14 percent. FCA said its Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram Truck and Fiat brands each posted year-over-year increases and 10 vehicles set January sales records including four Jeep vehicles.

"In spite of some tough 2015 comparisons, we remain confident in our ability to post year-over-year sales increases on the back of strong retail demand for our products," said Reid Bigland, FCA's head of U.S. sales, in a statement.

GM said its U.S. sales to retail customers and fleet customers increased by 14 percent and 32 percent, respectively. The Detroit automaker sold 202,786 vehicles and was boosted by big increases in pickup sales — up 42 percent year-over-year — and sales of crossovers and SUVs jumped 36 percent from January 2014.

"Consumers feel very good because more people are working, the U.S. economy is expanding and fuel prices are low," said Kurt McNeil, GM's U.S. vice president of sales operations, in a statement. "Consumer and commercial demand for trucks and crossovers is really driving our business, and our move into the small crossover segment with the Chevrolet Trax and Buick Encore, and mid-size pickups with the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, was well-timed."

Buyers in January continued their gradual increased preference toward trucks, large SUVs and crossovers in favor of smaller cars.

"As long as gas prices stay moderate and stable, these segments are going to continue to have strong sales," said Larry Dominique, executive vice president of industry solutions at TrueCar Inc.

Pickup sales also remained high, at about 12 percent of the industry, while small utilities grew a half a percentage point from a year ago to 17.7 percent of the industry in January, according to Ford. Small cars represented about 19 percent of the industry last month, 1 percentage point less than a year ago, Ford said. Fuel prices were below $2 a gallon in January and Ford's U.S. sales analyst Erich Merkle said whether that trend continues will depend on where fuel prices go this spring.

GM saw big gains from its Chevrolet brand, up 20 percent; GMC was up 28.6 percent and Cadillac had a 2.6 percent sales gain. Sales for Buick fell by 5.5 percent.

Ford said its retail sales increased by 13 percent — the best retail sales month for Ford since 2004. The Dearborn automaker said passenger car sales to retail customers rose by 6 percent, utilities were up 10 percent and truck sales rose 23 percent.

Other automakers also posted big increases: Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. said its sales jumped 15.6 percent in January, as light truck and Lexus set January sales records. Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. said sales rose 15.1 percent, with its Nissan division setting a January record with 94,449 sales, up 15.9 percent; and American Honda Motor Co. Inc. had record U.S. sales in January of 102,184, up 11.5 percent from a year ago.

Many industry forecasters are calling for U.S. auto sales to reach 17 million in 2015 after hitting 16.52 million last year.


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