February 1, 2018 / 3:20 PM / a year ago

Automakers post mixed U.S. January vehicle sales, SUVs in favor

DETROIT, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Major automakers posted mixed U.S. new vehicle sales figures for January, as American consumers continued to abandon passenger cars in favor of larger, more comfortable pickup trucks, SUVs and crossover models.

U.S. auto industry sales fell 2 percent in 2017 to 17.23 million vehicles after hitting a record high in 2016 and are expected to drop further in 2018 as interest rates rise and more late-model used cars come back to dealer lots to compete with new ones.

General Motors Co reported a 1.3 percent increase in sales for the month, driven by a 16 percent rise in fleet sales. Sales to consumers fell 2.4 percent. The automaker posted strong gains for models such as its Silverado pickup truck and Equinox crossover model, while passenger cars such as the Impala and Cruze continued to struggle.

“All of our brands are building momentum in the industry’s hottest and most profitable segments,” GM’s U.S vice president for sales Kurt McNeil said in a statement.

Ford Motor Co posted a 6.6 percent decline in new vehicle sales for January, with retail sales down 4.3 percent. The No. 2 U.S. automaker said its average transaction price rose $2,000, while its average discount to consumers was down $200 versus January 2016.

The company said sales of its F-Series pickup trucks - America’s best-selling vehicle brand for decades - rose 1.6 percent. Sales of passenger cars were down more than 23 percent compared with the same month a year earlier.

Toyota Motor Corp said its new vehicle sales rose 16.8 percent in January, noting strong demand not only for its pickup trucks and SUVs, but also for its revamped Camry passenger car, which was up more than 21 percent. The automaker has bet on taking a larger share of the shrinking passenger car market with the all-new sedan.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA) said that its new vehicle sales fell 13 percent in January. The decline was driven by a 50 percent drop in fleet sales, in line with the automaker’s strategy to reduce these lower-margin sales to rental agencies, businesses and government bodies.

FCA’s retail sales to consumers rose 2 percent to their second highest level since 2001. Sales of the company’s Ram pickup trucks fell 16 percent in January. The automaker recently unveiled a revamped pickup truck that will go into production at the end of this quarter.

GM shares were up 12 cents in early trading at $42.53, while Ford was down 2 cents at $10.95 and FCA was off nearly 1 percent at $23.93. (Reporting by Nick Carey; Editing by Susan Thomas)

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