Monster Month for Car Sales: Auto Purchases Rise 20% in February

  • Share
  • Read Later
Neil Beckerman / Getty Images

It has been an especially good month for car sales from two American automakers, Ford and Chrysler. The latter’s sales are up 27%, compared with February 2011.

Chrysler ended 2011 on a hot streak, with its best December for car sales in three years and an overall 26% rise in revenues for the year. The run is continuing in 2012.

Edmunds reports that in a strong month for car sales — estimated at nearly 1.1 million vehicles sold in February, up 20% from January — Chrysler showed the biggest growth of all. The automaker is expected to sell about 126,000 cars in February, or 25% more than in January and 27% more than in February 2011.

(LIST: 5 Ways to Score Cheaper Gas)

Overall, car sales this February are anticipated to be up 6% from February of a year ago, though being a leap year, February 2012 has one more sales day than its 2011 counterpart.

Ford easily had the next most impressive showing, with a 35.6% increase in sales from January to February, going from roughly 136,000 to 185,000 cars sold. Last February, by contrast, 156,000 Ford vehicles were sold, 13.6% fewer than this year.

At the beginning of 2012, analysts predicted that American drivers would buy a million more cars this year, perhaps hitting the 14 million mark after 12.8 million purchases last year. Based on especially strong sales thus far in 2012, these estimates may be low: suddenly, a projection of 14.4 million cars seems within reach.

(MORE: The Plug-In Surge: Newest, Hottest Hybrids and Electric Cars)

Besides slowly shrinking unemployment rates and rising consumer confidence, one of the main reasons new cars are selling is that the typical driver’s current vehicle is so old. Last summer, a report stated that the average car on the road was 11.1 years old — the oldest average ever measured. A more recent study indicated that drivers have been hanging on to new-car purchases for much longer than they used to before upgrading to a newer model.

Likewise, Edmunds notes:

With the exception of the Cash for Clunkers period in 2009, the average age of trade-in vehicles in January and February (6.1 and 6.2 years old, respectively) is the oldest on record, suggesting that consumers who were holding out through the recession are finally finding reasons to return to the automotive market.

(MORE: When Gas Prices Are High, High Car Prices Follow)

The rise in auto sales, then, may not be an indication that consumers are finally game to start spending money in a fashion similar to the prerecession heyday. It could be more a sign that pent-up demand, which analysts have been discussing for years, has finally burst forth. Consumers aren’t necessarily buying new cars because they want to but perhaps because they feel like they have to.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.