DETROIT -- U.S. auto sales declined 0.4 percent last month, as severe winter weather pushed some consumers to put off car shopping until February.
Automakers posted stronger results than many forecasts had predicted for a month that began with stocks taking a dive and ended with much of the East Coast buried in snow. Because the month had one weekend fewer than January 2015, the industry’s seasonally adjusted, annualized selling rate climbed to 17.55 million -- the highest level of any January since 2006.
The sales rate was 17.32 million in December and 16.71 million in January 2015.
Nissan and Hyundai set January records, and Fiat Chrysler posted a 6.9 percent increase, its 70th consecutive monthly gain. Sales were essentially flat at General Motors and down slightly more at while Ford Motor Co., American Honda and Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.
At GM, the Buick brand rose 45 percent. Chevrolet sales slipped 3.6 percent, and Cadillac was down 8 percent. GMC rose 3.5 percent. Overall, GM’s sales increased 0.5 percent, or just 959 units, though the company said retail sales were up 9 percent.
“We believe industry fundamentals such as the age of the vehicle fleet, well managed inventory levels, firm used car pricing, good credit availability and low fuel prices will support higher industry sales in 2016,” Mustafa Mohatarem, GM’s chief economist, said in a statement. “In addition, household balance sheets are strong and the labor market continues to improve.”
Sales by the Ford brand fell 3 percent, including a 5.2 percent decline for the F-series pickup. Ford brand SUVs and crossovers rose 3.3 percent, while its cars fell 13 percent. Lincoln achieved an 8 percent gain.
FCA said sales improved to 155,037 vehicles. The Dodge brand saw its sales rise 19 percent over a year ago, while Jeep sales climbed 15 percent. Ram sales rose 5 percent, but both the Chrysler and Fiat brands were down sharply.
GM said it cut car-rental deliveries by about 13,000 in January, offsetting its big gain in retail sales. GM was the only major automaker to post a retail increase or a fleet decrease last month, according to figures obtained by Automotive News.
Chevrolet sent 16,400 fewer vehicles to car-rental fleets than it did a year ago, more than accounting for the brand’s total decline of about 5,000 units. Chevy’s retail sales rose 12 percent, GM said.
On a retail basis, Chevy outsold the Ford brand by nearly 1,500 units. Ford's fleet sales jumped about 20 percent.
At Volkswagen, which is still grappling with the fallout from its U.S. emissions scandal, brand sales fell 15 percent to 20,079 vehicles. Passat midsize sedan sales plummeted 43.1 percent despite the arrival of an updated 2016 model late last year. The Tiguan compact crossover, one of VW’s two crossover models, was a lone bright spot for the brand, gaining 72 percent to 2,528 units.
But at VW sister brand Audi, strong demand for the redesigned Q7 crossover boosted sales 2.7 percent and propelled the brand to its 61st straight month of record U.S. sales -- 11,850 units in January.