U.S. auto sales up; recall trips Toyota

Typically weak month turns up good news for Ford, General Motors

January is typically a weak month for U.S. auto sales, but automakers expected sales to improve over last January, when they dipped to a 26-year low because of the tough economy.

General Motors Co. said its January sales rose 14 percent due to higher fleet and crossover vehicle sales. Crossovers are SUV-like in size but sit on a car frame instead of a truck frame.

Ford Motor Co., meanwhile, saw sales rise 25 percent on higher fleet sales, while Nissan Motor Co.’s rose 16 percent thanks to higher demand for sedans like the Versa, Sentra and Maxima. Hyundai Motor Co.’s sales rose 24 percent as sales of the redesigned Tucson SUV doubled.

Chrysler fell 8 percent on declining sales of Ram trucks and Jeeps, while Honda Motor Co. sales slipped 5 percent on weaker SUV and crossover demand. Korean automaker Kia said its January U.S. sales were essentially flat.

Susan Docherty, GM vice president of sales, said it’s too early to tell if the largest U.S. automaker gained sales because of Toyota Motor Corp.’s problems. But she said dealers reported increased traffic from Toyota customers.

“There is no doubt that the stop sale which was put in place last week impacted our sales,” said Bob Carter, Toyota’s group vice president and general manager. The car-buying site Edmunds.com predicted Toyota’s U.S. market share would drop to 14.7 percent in January, its lowest level since March 2006.

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