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U.S. Auto Sales Surge to Highest Levels Since Recession

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February 08, 2012 – Comments (0) | RELATED TICKERS: GM , F , X

U.S. Auto Sales Surge to Highest Levels Since Recession: Cars

February 08, 2012, 9:18 AM EST

(Bloomberg) -- Automakers sold new cars and trucks in January at the fastest pace since the 2009 “cash for clunkers” program without resorting to profit-sapping discounts, signaling demand returned to pre-recession levels.

U.S. light-vehicle sales accelerated to a 14.2 million seasonally adjusted annualized rate in January, the highest since the August 2009 government trade-in program. Honda Motor Co. reported its first increase since its inventory plunged after Japan’s tsunami in March that interrupted the auto market’s recovery last year.

General Motors Co. remained the sales leader even as its market share dropped by 3.4 percentage points, followed by Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. While GM was the only major automaker to report a sales decline, investors rewarded the company for pulling back on discounts to lift profit margins, boosting the stock 1.5 percent.

“We’re on the road to a real recovery,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president for forecasting at LMC Automotive in Troy, Michigan. January sales showed “a strength that we haven’t seen since well before cash for clunkers, back into mid-2008 before things started going downhill. That’s a long time.”

The light-vehicle sales rate exceeded the 13.4 million pace that was the average estimate of 14 analysts in a Bloomberg survey. Aside from August 2009, the U.S. monthly sales rate last topped 14 million in May 2008, according to Autodata Corp.

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