• Kyodo

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Despite harsh winter weather in the latter part of February and slowing sales of hybrids, Toyota Motor Corp. posted double-digit sales growth and surpassed Ford Motor Co. to second place in the United States, according to data from Autodata Corp.

It is the first time since last August that Toyota has come in second in monthly sales.

Opting for less-fuel-efficient sport utility vehicles and pickups amid lower gas prices, consumers are turning away from hybrids. Toyota reported a 6.6 percent slide in sales of its Prius lineup. Honda Motor Co. said its hybrids sales plummeted 22.3 percent in the month.

And although the snow and ice in the northeast may have kept some U.S. consumers from showrooms, a resurgent economy and a strengthening job market offset the negative impacts of the winter weather.

Dealers sold 1.26 million vehicles in February, 5.3 percent more than the year before, continuing a 12-month streak of year-on-year gains. The total translates to 16.23 million units in annualized sales, staying above the 16 million threshold for the ninth month in a row, the U.S. research company said.

Among Japanese automakers, Toyota posted a 13.3 percent increase, selling 180,467 vehicles. Toyota said its robust growth was driven by consumer demand for the light truck segment, such as the RAV4 SUV, which set a February record.

Meanwhile, the company said the ongoing labor disputes at West Coast seaports that caused it to reduce overtime at some North American plants had a minimum effect on sales in the month.

“There was a minor impact with some of the West Coast port situations. Although our team really worked very well around some of those challenges to minimize some supply issues,” Toyota Group Vice President Bill Fay said in a monthly sales call.

Nissan sold 118,436 vehicles, up 2.7 percent from a year ago, surpassing Honda for the second month in a row as the country’s No. 5 automaker. Its Rogue SUV, Versa subcompact and Sentra sedan hit double-digit increases while its luxury Infiniti brand sold almost 20 percent more.

Honda sold 105,466 vehicles in the month, up 5 percent from a year before. The company said the 80 percent increase in sales of both its Fit subcompact and Pilot SUV pointed to consumer demand for its broad lineup.

Although Honda previously announced it would cut production of the CR-V SUV and the Civic sedan due a drop in inventory of transmissions shipped from Japan from the West Coast port dispute, CR-V sales were up 7.4 percent while Civic sales were down just 2.5 percent.

Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., the maker of Subaru cars, sold 41,358 units in the month, up 18.5 percent.

Among the three major U.S. automakers, General Motors Co. posted a 4.2 percent increase in sales, selling 231,378 vehicles in the month. GM said sales of its SUVs, pickups and vans were up 36 percent as it focused on gaining market share in the light-duty, heavy-duty and midsize segments.

“Our new SUVs and crossovers, combined with the three-pickup strategy we outlined more than a year ago, are dovetailing perfectly with the growing U.S. economy and a stronger job market,” GM’s U.S. president of sales, Kurt McNeil, said in a press release.

Ford Motor Co. sold 179,673 vehicles in the month, down 2 percent from a year before, leaving it in third place. Despite the overall decrease, Ford said sales of its key F-Series truck lineup were up 7 percent and its Explorer SUV sold 32 percent more compared with the year before.

FCA US LLC, the maker of Chrysler cars, sold 160,250 units in the month, up 5.8 percent from a year ago. It said its Jeep brand and nine FCA vehicles, including the Jeep Patriot SUV and the Chrysler 200 sedan, broke a sales record for the month.

“In spite of snow and bitter cold that slowed auto sales in many regions of the country, FCA US still turned in a 6 percent sales increase and extended our year-over-year sales streak to 59 consecutive months,” Reid Bigland, Chrysler’s head of U.S. sales, said in a press release.

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