While total U.S. light vehicle sales rose last month, sales of new cars fell to their lowest January total in more than 40 years.
The tally of 511,523 marked the first time since 1962 that January sales were close to the 500,000 mark. And they were a far cry from the record 873,255 set in 1986. The Big 3 sold 222,059 of those cars last month, for 43.4 percent of the U.S. car market. Import-badged cars had a 56.6 percent share.
All in all, January was a month of contradictions. Sales should not have risen, but they did.
The overall 3.2 percent increase in the sale of cars and light trucks - to 1,125,582 - was achieved despite brutal weather. Snow and month-long freezing temperatures scourged the Midwest and Northeast, and icy roads made travel hazardous as far south as the Carolinas and Georgia.
The January total was the U.S. industry's best since 2001 and the fourth best since 1990.
The industry car total of 511,523 was down 8.7 percent from 2003. Light trucks won the laurel wreath with a total of 614,059, a 15.7 percent gain and the highest ever for January.