Automakers sold 27.3% more new cars and trucks in February than a year ago. The annualized pace was 13.4 million, the highest since 14.2 million in August 2009, when the federal cash-for-clunkers program ignited sales during the recession.
Part of the pull: The average per-vehicle incentive rose 5% in February from January, to $2,708, according to TrueCar, an auto research website.
Car companies cheered the fact that retail sales to individual buyers were up, because those sales tend to be more profitable than discounted, multiple-vehicle fleet sales. It was taken as a harbinger of economic recovery and consumer optimism.
General Motors and Toyota posted eye-popping gains of more than 40% from February a year ago. But both had poor sales in the 2010 period, so other automakers' gains of 10% to 30% were more faithful signals.
In much of the U.S., "Consumers went through a winter shut in because of the (snowy) January weather, and when they shoveled themselves out, there was some pent-up demand," says Rebecca Lindland, veteran auto analyst and director of strategic review at IHS Automotive.
The jump of 19 cents per gallon in the average price of regular gasoline the last week of February came too late to chill sales of SUVs and other less-economical models. Some examples from sales figures compiled by Autodata:
•Chrysler's newest Jeep, the redone Grand Cherokee, was up 31%, though its best city/highway combined rating is 18 miles per gallon.
Chrysler's Ram brand, which sells only trucks and vans, was up 55.8%, including the start of sales for the new, full-size Durango SUV, rated 19 city/highway mpg.
•GM's Buick brand's best seller and biggest gainer was the Enclave crossover SUV, up 37.6%. It has a 19 mpg city/highway rating.
•Ford's redesigned Explorer crossover SUV was up 139.2%. It's rated 20 mpg in city/highway use.
•Honda's truck models were up 31.9%, led by the CR-V crossover, rated 24 city/highway mpg. Honda's Insight hybrid sedan, by contrast, is rated 41 mpg in combined use, but sales were down 14.5%
•Nissan's trucks were up 65.9%; cars, just 17.5%
- Call: 1-888-267-5511
- Click: www.CourtesyChev.com
- Visit: 1233 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ 85014