NEW YORK – As falling oil prices continue to drive consumers toward sport utility vehicles and trucks, Japanese automakers kicked off 2015 by posting double-digit growth in the U.S. with Nissan overtaking Honda become the fifth-largest automaker in the country, according to data from Autodata Corp.
Boosted by an extra day of sales in January, dealers welcomed customers in levels not since 2001. Last year they were kept away from showrooms when severe winter weather struck parts of the U.S.
“The encouraging January results on top of positive economic news, including a seven-year high in consumer confidence, bodes well for the months ahead,” Toyota group Vice President Bill Fay said in a monthly sales call.
Dealers sold 1,151,123 vehicles in January, 13.7 percent more than the year before, continuing an eleven-month streak of annual gains. This was the largest sales volume for January in 14 years.
The total translates to 16.66 million units in annualized sales, staying above the 16 million threshold for the eighth month in a row, the U.S. research company said.
Among Japanese automakers, Toyota posted a 15.6 percent increase, selling 169,194 vehicles in the month, making it the third-largest automaker in the country.
Three of Toyota’s core models — the Highlander SUV, the Rav4 SUV and the Corolla sedan — hit records for the month, while its luxury brand Lexus sold 23,131 cars to continue a streak of record-breaking sales volume.
“January was a great way for our dealers to start the year, with their third straight record month and an industry-leading 31 percent sales increase,” Lexus group Vice President Jeff Bracken said in a press release.
Nissan sold 104,107 vehicles, up 15.1 percent from a year ago and a record for the month. The 2015 model-year Murano SUV hit showrooms and boosted sales of the car more than 70 percent compared with the year before.
Honda sold 102,184 vehicles in the month, up 11.5 percent from a year before. The sixth-largest manufacturer said its light truck segment sold 27.7 percent more units than the year before, boosted by strong sales of its Pilot and CR-V SUVs while the Fit compact car posted a sales increase of better than 80 percent.
Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., the maker of Subaru cars, sold 40,812 units in the month, up 23.7 percent.
Among the three major U.S. automakers, General Motors Co. posted an 18.3 percent increase in sales, selling 202,786 vehicles in the month. The largest carmaker said sales of its SUVs were up 36 percent and pickup sales increased 42 percent, compared with the year before.
“Consumer and commercial demand for our trucks and crossovers is really driving our business,” GM’s U.S. president of sales, Kurt McNeil, said in a press release. “Consumers feel very good before more people are working, the U.S. economy is expanding and fuel prices are low.”
Ford Motor Co. sold 177,441 vehicles in the month, up 15.6 percent from a year before, making it the second-largest automaker in the country. Ford said its new aluminum-bodied F-150 pickup drove truck sales, which were up 23 percent in the month.
“Momentum is especially strong for our F-Series pickup, with the all-new F-150 the hottest product on our dealer lots in January,” Eric Merkle, Ford’s U.S. sales analyst, said in a press release, adding that the F-Series hit a record for the month not seen since 2004.
FCA US LLC, the maker of Chrysler cars, delivered 141,655 cars in the month, up 14.3 percent from a year ago. Three of its brands — Chrysler, Jeep and Ram — posted double digit sales increases to push the fourth-largest automaker to extend a 58-month streak of annual growth, which it expects to continue throughout 2015.
“In spite of some tough 2015 comparisons, we remain confident in our ability to post year-over-year sales increases on the back of strong retail demand for our products,” Reid Bigland, Chrysler’s head of U.S. sales, said in a press release.