DETROIT — Chrysler's U.S. sales were hot last month even though much of the country was frigid, as the automaker reported an 8 percent increase over a year ago.
But analysts don't expect Chrysler to be the norm as companies report sales figures Monday. They're predicting little or no sales growth compared with a year ago because a barrage of snowstorms and cold snaps kept buyers out of showrooms.
Chrysler said it sold just over 127,000 vehicles for its best January in six years, led by the Chrysler 200 midsize car and the Ram pickup. Both posted gains of more than 20 percent. Jeep brand sales rose 38 percent, fueled by sales of 10,505 new Cherokee small SUVs. It was the company's 46th-straight month of year-over-year sales gains.
"The bad weather only seemed to affect our competitors' stores as we had a great January," Reid Bigland, Chrysler's U.S. sales chief, said in a statement.
One of the competitors' dealerships certainly felt the cold shoulder.
"When you go three days when no one comes on the lot, it's a little tough to be up to average," said Timothy "Bruce" Detweiler, dealer principal of a Buick-GMC dealer in Masontown, Pa., about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh. Local temperatures were near or below zero for several straight days.
Even if the industry got off to a slow start in January, analysts still expect sales to be over 16 million this year — a return to pre-recession levels — as customers go shopping again once the weather gets warm. Old cars need to be replaced, low-interest financing is abundant and the companies are introducing exciting new vehicles. Last year, total U.S. sales rose 8 percent, or by 1.1 million vehicles, to 15.6 million.
For January, most analysts are predicting sales at an annual rate of around 15.6 million, about a 2.5 percent increase from last January's rate of 15.2 million.
Jesse Toprak, chief analyst for the Cars.com auto sales website, predicted that Chrysler would be the sales leader, followed by Nissan with a 4.6 percent gain, Honda at 4.5 and Hyundai/Kia with a 3.7 percent increase. But Ford sales could be off 4.3 percent, Toyota down 3.2 and GM off by 1.8 percent from a year earlier.
Detweiler is hoping that those who didn't leave their homes during the streak of bad weather will venture out and buy in February.
"Historically, a lot of times when they're stuck in the house, they end up researching cars," he said. "Sometimes we have a good month the next month because of really bad weather."