DETROIT – Americans want new cars and trucks, and theyre not letting higher gas prices or political dysfunction stand in their way.
New car and truck sales were up 4 percent in February as rising home construction and cheap financing kept the U.S. auto recovery on track. While the pace of growth is slowing, analysts expect more gains in coming months, saying theres little that could derail demand for new cars.
Carbuyers have already shrugged off higher Social Security taxes, which cut their take-home pay starting in January. Gasoline prices – which rose 36 cents to $3.78 a gallon in February – didnt change their habits, either. And they ignored the debate over automatic spending cuts that were due to take effect Friday.
Quite frankly, we think most of America is getting a little tired of hearing about some of the dysfunction, said Kurt McNeil, General Motors Co.s U.S. sales chief. We think the fundamentals are strong and thats whats important, and thats whats driving the economy.
February sales hit an annualized rate of 15.4 million cars and trucks. Thats still short of the recent peak of close to 17 million in 2005, but its quite healthy compared with the anemic 10.4 million recorded during the recession in 2009.
Truck sales jumped in February as more homes were built. McNeil said GMs pickup sales to small businesses rose 40 percent from a year ago, signaling strong confidence in the underlying economy.
GMs sales rose 7 percent to their highest February level since 2008. Chevrolet Silverado pickup sales jumped 29 percent, which helped make up for faltering sales of cars like the Chevrolet Malibu and Cruze. GMs Allen County truck assembly plant produces the Silverado and the GMC Sierra.
Fords sales increased 9 percent. Ford reported a 15 percent gain for its F-Series pickups, which are the best-selling vehicles in the U.S. Toyotas sales were up 4 percent, with strong sales of the RAV4 small SUV and Avalon large sedan. Tundra pickup sales also rose 16 percent. Despite higher gas prices, sales of the Prius were down 13.5 percent.
Hondas sales fell 2 percent. Sales of the new Accord jumped 35 percent, but that couldnt offset big declines for the CRV crossover and Civic small car.
Chrysler Groups sales were up 4 percent over a year ago, a much slower pace than the 21 percent jump it saw in 2012.