General Motors Co.'s U.S. car and truck sales rose 23 percent in January, a strong start to what the auto industry hopes will be a continuation of last year's recovery.
Analysts were expecting overall U.S. auto sales to rise 15 to 17 percent in January, even with lower sales to rental car fleets and East Coast snowstorms that kept some buyers at home. Fleet sales spiked to unusually high levels in January 2010 as businesses started buying again after the recession.
This January, consumers were back.
GM's fleet sales dropped 7 percent, while its sales to individual buyers rose 36 percent. That's a sign that people are returning to showrooms as they gain confidence in the economy, said Don Johnson, vice president of U.S. sales for GM.
"Consumers are driving much of the gains that we're seeing in the industry," he said.
GM deliberately cut sales to rental car companies compared with last year, he said. Those sales are far less profitable than sales to individuals.
Sales of GM's full-size pickups jumped 37 percent from January of last year.
Pickup sales were strong all of 2010 as construction companies and other small businesses began buying again, and that trend seemed to continue last month. The Chevrolet Silverado was the second best-selling vehicle in the U.S. in 2010, after Ford's F-Series pickup.
Of GM's four brands, Cadillac saw the biggest increases, as sales rose 49 percent. GM saw strong demand for the CTS sedan and coupe.
"We think that January signals a good start to the year for us, for the industry, and we think it's a good sign for the overall U.S. economy," Johnson said.
GM was the first of the major car companies to report U.S. sales on Tuesday