After a pretty stirring ride in 2011, automakers kept rolling strongly into 2012, with most major car companies reporting rising U.S. sales for the year’s first month. The big gainer among the U.S. companies was Fiat’s (PINK:FIATY) Chrysler. The No. 3 of Detroit’s Big Three racked up 44% sales increase, selling 101,149 total vehicles in January, versus 70,118 in 2011. That handily outran analysts’ estimates of a 32% sales gain, according to Bloomberg. Chrysler had more good news on Wednesday, reporting its first full-year profit since 1997.
Nissan (PINK:NSANY) also did better than expected, selling 79,313 vehicles, for a 10% increase over 2011. Bloomberg says analysts were predicting a 7.6% rise. General Motors (NYSE:GM) posted a not-unexpected 6.1% sales decline, but even that beat analyst estimates of a 7.3% drop.
Ford (NYSE:F) was an outlier as far as falling short of estimates. It reported a 7.4% gain, putting 136,294 vehicles on the road in January. Bloomberg said the expectations were for a slightly larger, 7.9%, increase. Ford’s redesigned Focus is powering sales.
Volkswagen (PINK:VLKAY), which battled GM for the No. 1 spot in global auto sales for 2011, posted a Chrysler-beating 48% sales jump, moving 27,209 vehicles. It also said it’s adding 200 jobs at its Chattanooga, Tenn., assembly plant. On Monday, Chrysler announced that it’s increasing employment at its Belvidere, Ill., plant by 1,600 workers to build the new compact Dodge Dart.
Not to be left out, Toyota (NYSE:TM) also reported a healthy January, with sales up 7.5%, thanks to strong demand for the redesigned Camry. The Japanese carmaker’s comeback in 2012 could make the race for No. 1 in global sales even tighter this year.