NASHVILLE -- Sales of SUVs and trucks at Nissan Division rose in February despite forecasts of rising fuel prices, while sales of some fuel-efficient small vehicles declined.
Combined Nissan North America sales rose 16 percent from a year earlier to 106,731 cars and trucks in February. Nissan brand sales rose 17 percent to 97,492, and Infiniti sales edged up 1 percent to 9,239.
The results were not entirely what the company was expecting.
“With all the gloomy media reports, I really thought we were going to see an exodus of customers away from body-on-frame vehicles last month,” said Al Castignetti, Nissan Division vice president for sales.
Instead, Nissan saw a 20 percent rise in sales of Frontier pickups to 4,237; a 7 percent gain in sales of the full-sized Titan pickup; and upticks in sales of its full-sized Armada and Xterra SUVs.
Meanwhile, sales of the fuel-efficient Versa dropped 4 percent, and Sentra sales fell 16 percent.
At the luxury Infiniti brand, sales of the full-sized QX56 SUV rose 29 percent. Ben Poore, president of the Infiniti business unit, said his customers are less sensitive than buyers of lower-priced vehicles to rising gasoline prices.
At Nissan, Castignetti said consumers have reached a new level of comfort with fuel prices.
“We used to say the ‘scare price” for gas was $4 a gallon,” he says. “That was the point when people would start changing their shopping plans. But I believe they’ve gotten used to $3.75 a gallon.”
Nissan was also helped in February by a 58 percent gain in Altima sales, to 32,953 units. Castignetti said Nissan is selling off inventories of the current Altima in preparation for the June debut of the redesigned Altima.
Nissan is offering a $179 a month 24-month lease for the Altima. Castignetti says that incentive will end when the new model reaches the market.