Auto industry reports good February growthv

Tax increases. Rising gas prices. Political dysfunction in Washington. None of that kept Americans away from auto dealer showrooms in February as General Motors, Ford and other automakers posted strong sales gains.

GM’s Lordstown-built Cruze sales were not as successful, though, dipping for the second consecutive month.

GM described the month overall as the “best February since 2008,” reporting sales increases of about 7 percent when compared to February 2012. The company is on pace for 15.5 million unit sales of light vehicles this year.

“Credit is available and affordable, and consumers appear to be taking higher payroll taxes in stride,” Kurt McNeil, GM’s vice president of U.S. sales operations said during the monthly conference call from Detroit. “New home sales is creating jobs and fueling demand for pickups.”

GM’s sales were led by the Chevrolet Silverado pickup with an increase of 29 percent. Ford also reported strong sales of its F-Series pickups, up 15 percent.

Ford sales increased 9 percent. Chrysler and Volkswagen also reported increases, but both slowed from the torrid pace of the past two years. Chrysler sales were up 4 percent over a year earlier, while VW sales were up 3 percent. Toyota sales were up just more than 4 percent.

Ford posted record February totals for the Escape SUV and Fusion sedan. Fusion sales were up 28 percent and Escape sales rose 29 percent. Together, the Escape and Fusion made up more than a quarter of Ford’s monthly sales.

Volkswagen reported its best February since 1973, but sales were far off the pace of VW’s 31 percent increase last year. Toyota reported strong sales of the RAV4 small SUV and Avalon large car.

Despite higher gasoline sales, though, small car sales were dipping at multiple manufacturers. Cruze sales dropped 12 percent to 17,974 from 20,427 in February 2012. GM’s Sonic and Malibu sales also dropped by double-digit percentages.

But car sales weren’t a concern that was getting GM officials worked up.

”We had tough year-over-year comparisons,” McNeil said. “We obviously feel very good about our ATPs (average transaction prices) and incentive discipline. And when you look at market share in those segments we do have some pretty good tales to tell.”

Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst at, noted that industry-wide small car sales were a mixed bag for February, with Honda Civic, Hyundai Accent, Ford Fiesta and Focus all reporting declines in February sales. Hyundai Elantra and Toyota Corolla were up.

She offered some insight on the Cruze, noting that incentives have been increased on the all-new Chevy Malibu.

”As a result, those moves also hurt Cruze sales because a Cruze intender may see more value in terms of lower price for bigger, newer car in the Malibu,” she said.

Tribune Chronicle business editor Brenda J. Linert and Associated Press auto writer Dee-Ann Durbin contributed to this report.