Chrysler posts best February U.S. sales in five years

DETROIT, March 1 Fri Mar 1, 2013 8:11am EST

DETROIT, March 1 (Reuters) - Chrysler Group LLC said Friday its U.S. sales of 139,015 in February rose 4 percent from 133,521 a year before and were its best February sales in five years.

The sales tally barely missed the consensus estimate of 140,159 from analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

The automaker, majority owned by Fiat SpA, said sales of the Dodge, Ram Truck and Fiat brands posted year-to-year increases, while the Chrysler and Jeep brands saw declines from a year before.

Chrysler is the first of the major automakers to report February sales.

Industry sales in February were expected to show a fourth straight month of seasonally adjusted annualized sales above 15 million vehicles, for the first time since early 2008, a sign of a sustained recovery after the recession.

At Chrysler, Dodge brand sales in February rose 30 percent to 55,639. Ram Truck sales were up 2 percent to 23,827 and Fiat 500 sales were up 2 percent to 3,302.

Jeep brand sales fell 16 percent to 31,164 and Chrysler brand sales dropped 7 percent to 25,083.

Chrysler said some Jeep vehicles have been in short supply, with the discontinuation of the Liberty last summer and the recent launch of the 2014 Grand Cherokee.

A successor to the Liberty, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, will be unveiled later this month at the New York Auto Show and will go on sale in May.

Like January, February is typically a slow sales month for the industry, so a small change in sales can have a large impact on the annual rate for the month.

U.S. industry sales rose 14 percent in January to an annual sales rate of 15.3 million - the third straight month the annual sales rate had topped 15 million.

U.S. auto sales in 2012 rose more than 13 percent to 14.5 million cars and trucks.

While the current pace was below pre-recession U.S. sales volume, it is much higher than the 10.4 million new vehicles sold in the United States in 2009. That year marked the lowest sales level since the early 1980s and pushed General Motors Co and Chrysler into bankruptcy.