U.S. February auto sales jump, no sign of slowdown

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U.S. auto sales in February showed no signs of decelerating as most major automakers on Tuesday posted big gains from a year ago despite fears of an eventual slowdown after a record 2015.

Ford Motor Co (F.N) sales rose 20 percent on the strength of SUV and crossover vehicles, which were up 28 percent from last February. F-Series pickup trucks, tops in U.S. sales for more than three decades, gained 10 percent.

Ford also did well in car sales, which jumped 19 percent, led by the compact Focus. Ford stock was up 2.7 percent at $12.85.

General Motors Co (GM.N) sales fell 1.5 percent. Sales would have been higher, it said, if it did not cut shipments to rental companies by 16,500, or 39 percent, from a year earlier. GM shares were down 0.8 percent at $29.20.

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"In addition to positive economic factors, February car sales got a boost from the Super Bowl, (the) Presidents Day (holiday) and beefed up dealer advertising," said Michelle Krebs, analyst with Autotrader.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU.N)(FCHA.MI) February U.S. auto sales rose 12 percent as the carmaker again showed strong Jeep SUV and Ram truck sales.

Sales for Jeep's six SUV models rose 23 percent, matching the gain for Ram pickup trucks, said Fiat Chrysler, No. 4 in U.S. auto sales, after No. 1 GM and No. 2 Ford and No. 3 Toyota.

Nissan Motor Co (7201.T) sales rose 10.5 percent despite a decline of 11 percent in its luxury brand, Infiniti. Nissan sales were up for cars as well as SUVs.

Analysts expected industry gains of between 7 to 9 percent from a year ago.

Forty-eight economists polled by Thomson Reuters, on average, expected annualized February U.S. sales to be 17.63 million vehicles. Last year, U.S. auto sales hit a record 17.4 million vehicles.

With the auto industry being cyclical, most analysts expect sales to eventually hit a plateau, then taper off. The sector has been on a roll since the 2008-2009 recession.

The first two months of 2016 have not shown many signs of a fall-off. January U.S. auto sales on an annualized basis were 17.46 million, according to WardsAuto data.

Nationwide, demand for SUVs and pickups has been boosted by low oil and gasoline prices as well as relatively easy consumer credit and a moderately growing overall economy.

Analysts expect Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T)(TM.N) to show a gain of about 6 percent. All gains are versus last February.

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U.S. February auto sales jump, no sign of slowdown
Google's new self-driving prototype car drives around a parking lot during a demonstration at Google campus on Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in Mountain View, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Shown is the dashboard of Daimler's Freightliner Inspiration self-driving truck Wednesday, May 6, 2015, in Las Vegas. Although much attention has been paid to autonomous vehicles being developed by Google and traditional car companies, Daimler believes that automated tractor-trailers will be rolling along highways before self-driving cars are cruising around the suburbs. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff (L) takes a ride in a self-driving car at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California on Wednesday, July 01, 2015.AFP PHOTO/JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
An Autopilot self-driving sign sits on the window of a Tesla Motors Inc. electric automobile store in Munich, Germany, on Monday, March 30, 2015. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk wants to transform Tesla into more of a mass-market automaker by building a battery-cell factory big enough to supply 500,000 vehicles by 2020. Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images
FILE - In this Sept. 25, 2012, file photo, California Gov. Jerry Brown, front left, rides in a driverless car to a bill signing at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. California state officials on Thursday, June 18, 2015 released reports detailing six accidents that involved self-driving car prototypes, reversing a policy that had shielded details of how the next-generation technology is performing during testing on public roads. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
A Tesla Motors Inc. Model S electric automobile fitted with Robert Bosch GmbH automated driving technology drives on a test track in Boxberg, Germany, on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. The market for automated-driving systems might total $42 billion by 2025, Boston Consulting Group estimated in January. Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A GPS driving sensor antennae sits on the back of a Tesla Motors Inc. Model S electric automobile at the Robert Bosch GmbH driverless technology press event in Boxberg, Germany, on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. The market for automated-driving systems might total $42 billion by 2025, Boston Consulting Group estimated in January. Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - FEBRUARY 02: U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx inspects a Google self-driving car at the Google headquarters on February 2, 2015 in Mountain View, California. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx joined Google Chairman Eric Schmidt for a fireside chat where he unveiled Beyond Traffic, a new analysis from the U.S. Department of Transportation that anticipates the trends and choices facing our transportation system over the next three decades. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A camera peers out from the front grill of Google's self-driving car in Mountain View, California, on May 13, 2014. A white Lexus cruised along a road near the Google campus, braking for pedestrians and scooting over in its lane to give bicyclists ample space. AFP PHOTO/Glenn CHAPMAN (Photo credit should read GLENN CHAPMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - SEPTEMBER 25: People look at camera on top of a Google self-driving car at the Google headquarters on September 25, 2012 in Mountain View, California. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed State Senate Bill 1298 that allows driverless cars to operate on public roads for testing purposes. The bill also calls for the Department of Motor Vehicles to adopt regulations that govern licensing, bonding, testing and operation of the driverless vehicles before January 2015. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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