January US auto sales expected to fall after snowstorm

DETROIT (AP) — U.S. auto sales were expected to fall in January because of the East Coast snowstorm, but analysts say demand remains strong and buyers will likely head back into dealerships this month. J.D. Power and Associates forecast a 4.5 percent sales drop from a year ago to just under 1.1...

 
              In this Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, photo, a row of new Ford Fusions are for sale on the lot at Butler County Ford in Butler, Pa. On Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, the major automakers report sales figures for January. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

DETROIT (AP) — U.S. auto sales were expected to fall in January because of the East Coast snowstorm, but analysts say demand remains strong and buyers will likely head back into dealerships this month.

J.D. Power and Associates forecast a 4.5 percent sales drop from a year ago to just under 1.1 million cars and trucks. John Humphrey, J.D. Power's senior vice president of automotive, estimated that the storm — which buried New York and Washington D.C. under more than 2 feet of snow the weekend of Jan. 22 — cost automakers around 15,000 vehicle sales.

Sales last January hit their highest point in nine years, kicking off a year of record sales. U.S. buyers bought 17.5 million cars and trucks in 2015.

Analysts expect sales to continue to grow this year, though at a slower pace. LMC Automotive, a consulting firm, predicts sales will hit a record of 17.8 million this year. Low gas prices, low interest rates and an improving economy are all continuing to fuel sales.

General Motors' U.S. sales were flat in January at 203,745. Sales were up for its GMC and Buick brands but fell for Chevrolet and Cadillac. Ford's sales fell 3 percent to 173,723 vehicles. Ford's SUV sales were up but it saw double-digit declines in car sales.

Fiat Chrysler's sales jumped 7 percent to just over 155,000 cars and trucks. Fiat Chrysler wasn't led by its usual big sellers. The Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Ram Pickup all posted modest increases, but sales got the biggest boost from some unlikely vehicles — including an 83 percent increase for the heavily discounted Dodge Caravan minivan. Fiat Chrysler is introducing a new minivan this spring, so buyers looking for discounts may be snapping up the older minivans.

Nissan's sales rose 1.6 percent to 105,734. Sales of its new Maxima sedan more than doubled from last January.

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