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Winter takes a bite out of US auto sales

Bitter cold and massive snowstorms have taken a toll on US auto sales in January, but Chrysler bucks trend as rivals post significant losses.

CHICAGO: Bitter cold and massive snowstorms took a bite out of US auto sales in January, but Chrysler said on Monday it extended a winning streak even as its rivals posted significant losses.

January is typically the weakest sales month of the year as showrooms empty out following big year-end sales in December.

But the unusually brutal winter weather -- which buried huge swaths of the country in snow, ice and frigid temperatures -- kept people at home and even delayed delivery of sales to government and corporate fleets.

General Motors forecast that the seasonally adjusted sales pace would fall to 15.3 million units in January from a pace of 15.6 million in December once all automakers have reported.

Those losses are expected to help boost sales in February -- so long as a the brutal weather lifts.

And GM forecasts that the industry as a whole will post its best results since 2007 this year with sales expected to come in between 16 and 16.5 million vehicles.

GM's sales dropped 12 per cent to 171,486 vehicles in January, weakened in part by planned reductions in low-margin sales to rental car companies.

Better results were ahead, the largest US automaker insisted.

"We have major launches underway and we are going to accelerate brand-building and other growth initiatives, which include executing our winning strategy to sell more pickup trucks with larger cabs, more features and advanced technology," GM sales chief Kurt McNeil said in a statement.

Ford's sales fell seven per cent in January to 154,644 vehicles.

"Given the difficult weather in our largest sales regions, we are fortunate to have held in at retail as well as we did," said Ford sales chief John Felice.

Toyota's sales fell seven per cent from a year earlier to 146,365 vehicles.

"January was off to a solid start, but the weather condition slowed industry sales in key markets late in the month," said Bill Fay, general manager of the Japanese automaker's Toyota division.

"For Toyota, we're pleased with our retail sales, strong truck results and expect to see growth back in February."

Chrysler bucked the trend with sales up eight per cent to 127,183 vehicles in its best January performance since 2008. It has now posted 46 consecutive months of year-over-year sales gains.

"The bad weather only seemed to affect our competitors' stores as we had a great January," Chrysler sales chief Reid Bigland said.

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