February auto sales rise; GM posts surprise gain

DETROIT –  March 1: A surprising sales gain by General Motors Co. and strong performances by Ford Motor Co. and others helped push U.S. February auto sales to their highest annual sales rate in nearly four years as consumer confidence improved and drivers gave in to the need to replace their aging cars and trucks.

The sales gains came even as fuel prices shot up last month, spurring consumers seek out smaller, more environmentally friendly cars. Sales of Ford’s Focus small car more than doubled in February.

The annual sales rate, a closely watched industry yardstick, was on track to reach 14.7 million vehicles, JP Morgan analysts said. That would be the best monthly showing since March 2008, before the financial crisis that sent Detroit into a tailspin.

GM said the rate could be as high as 14.9 million vehicles, topping the high end of analyst estimates.

GM’s U.S. sales chief, Don Johnson, told analysts on a conference call that this could be the best monthly seasonally adjusted annual rate since 2008.