DETROIT — Americans want new cars and trucks, and they’re not going to let higher gas prices or political dysfunction in Washington stand in their way.
General Motors, Toyota, Ford and most other automakers posted at least modest sales gains for February. Industry analysts estimate last month’s sales rose about 7 percent from a year earlier as pent-up demand and cheap financing kept the U.S. auto sales recovery powering along.
GM sales rose 7 percent, while Ford’s increased 9 percent. Chrysler and Volkswagen also reported increases, but both slowed from the torrid pace of the past two years. Chrysler sales were up 4 percent over a year earlier, while VW sales were up 3 percent. Toyota sales were up just over 4 percent, while Hyundai posted a 2 percent gain.
Of the major automakers, Nissan and Honda were down. Nissan sales were off almost 7 percent from a record February of 2012, while Honda blamed its 2 percent drop on the winter snowstorm in the Northeast.
Auto industry analysts say that higher Social Security taxes, rising gas prices and looming government spending cuts failed to keep buyers away from showrooms.
“I think these little speed bumps aren’t big enough to slow down the momentum right now,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for LMC Automotive, an industry consulting firm.
That momentum comes from a number of factors, including the need to replace aging cars and trucks, historically low interest rates and steady improvement in hiring and hourly pay.
But while sales for 2013 are expected to top last year’s figures, monthly increases are likely to be smaller than the double-digit gains the industry has regularly posted as sales recovered from historic lows following the recession.
Still, GM’s sales were the best since February 2008, led by the Chevrolet Silverado pickup with an increase of 29 percent. Kurt McNeil, the company’s U.S. sales chief, said the recovery in new home construction is helping to boost the economy and pickup sales. When home construction thrives, businesses tend to invest more to replace vehicles. The average age of a U.S. pickup truck is just over 11 years.
Ford also reported strong sales of its F-Series pickups, up 15 percent. The company also posted record February totals for the Escape SUV and Fusion sedan. Fusion sales were up 28 percent and Escape sales rose 29 percent. Together, the Escape and Fusion made up more than a quarter of Ford’s monthly sales.
Ford also said it plans to increase North American production by 9 percent in the second quarter compared with the second quarter of 2012.