Cruze sales hot despite cold weather

Sales of the locally built Chevy Cruze in February again outpaced all other General Motors cars as the vehicle marked its best February ever with 21,836 deliveries, the auto manufacturer announced Monday.

The Cruze managed not to fall victim to February’s brutal weather negatively impacting auto sales industry wide. GM, Ford and Toyota on Monday reported U.S. sales declines for February. The country’s top three automakers by sales said the month started slowly, but sales began to recover in the second half. If that momentum continues into March, fears of a broader sales slowdown may prove to be unfounded.

GM reported an overall drop in sales by 1 percent for February and 6 percent year-to-date. Cruze, however, showed a double-digit percentage gain in sales, up 22 percent to 21,836 from 17, 947 in February 2013. Year-to-date, sales of the small car have stayed hot despite the cold, with sales increasing 19 percent over this time last year.

Automakers entered 2014 expecting to sell more than 16 million cars and trucks for the first time since the recession. But so far, sales are on pace to hit around 15 million, which would be 600,000 less than last year.

One GM marketer, who appeared for media preview day Friday at the Cleveland Auto Show, however, said she wasn’t panicking yet, and predicted “raucous spring” sales that would rebound the industry and get it back on track to beat 2013 sales numbers.

If that’s to happen, industry analysts say March is the month to watch, when automakers will see if the sales slowdown was due to historic cold and snow or if deeper reasons exist for sagging demand.

Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, believes sales will recover enough to reach 16.3 million for the year, beating the last industry record of 16.1 million vehicles in 2007.

“We think there is still plenty of time left this year for sales to rebound and kind of get us back on that pace,” he said.

Analysts expect overall sales to rise about 1 percent for the month, a slow pace compared with the 8 percent increase for all of last year.

Chrysler and Nissan were able to notch double-digit gains in February numbers released Monday, but discounted some key models to get there. That points to another potential problem if automakers have to offer steeper discounts to shrink their inventories.

For consumers, it means deals. Incentives are the highest they’ve been in three years, averaging $2,633 per vehicle in February, up more than 5 percent from a year ago, according to TrueCar.com, a car buying site.

Larry Dominique, executive vice president of TrueCar, predicts the bargains to wane as the weather gets warmer and customers go shopping again.

GM sold just over 222,000 cars and trucks in February, with car sales led by the Cruze. Sales of the Chevy Silverado pickup, GM’s top-selling vehicle, fell 12 percent for the month.

Ford’s sales fell 6 percent to 184,000 vehicles. Sales of the F-Series pickup, its top-selling vehicle, rose just under 3 percent.

Toyota sales fell 4 percent to just over 159,000 cars and trucks.

Volkswagen, which has been struggling in the U.S., reported a 14 percent drop.

Nissan’s sales were up almost 16 percent to just over 115,000, led by the new Rogue crossover. Chrysler sales rose 11 percent to nearly 155,000.

blinert@tribtoday.com