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January car sales strong...but storm threatens February sales.

David Erickson

Most car companies had a better January than the same month last year, led by Chrysler and GM, which improved their sales 23%.

Ford sales improved 13%.  The company had a stronger January a year ago than Chrysler and GM, which were both struggling to rebuild inventories, so Ford's percentage improvement is not as great.

Ford also terminated its Mercury brand in December, and officials say the company is deliberately reducing sales to fleets like rental car companies.  A high volume of fleet sales can lower the residual value of a company's vehicles.

Toyota sales were up by 17% and Nissan by 15%.

Rebecca Lindland is an analyst with IHS Automotive.   She says the housing sector and employment are still weak, which hampers auto sales, but there is some momentum.   

"The consumer is back in the showroom, " says Lindland. "Which is terrific for the economy, because at the end of the day, the U.S. economy is supported by the consumer. "

For February, Rebecca Lindland of I-H-S Automotive thinks the big snowstorm won’t hamper sales much - -- as long as dealers can clear the snow off the new cars by Saturday.

"Midweek storms don’t tend to influence the buying behavior quite as much as the weekend storms – that’s when you start to see some negative numbers."

Lindland says it will be a problem if the storm delays new vehicle deliveries.   Dealers might have to play catch up the rest of the month to make up for some lost sales.  

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.