DETROIT — American consumers ignored tax increases and trudged through winter weather to buy new cars and trucks at an unusually strong pace last month. It was the auto industry’s best January since 2008.
U.S. auto sales rose 14 percent to more than 1 million. Toyota’s 27 percent gain was the biggest among the major car companies. Ford’s sales jumped 22 percent, while GM and Chrysler each reported 16 percent gains compared with a year earlier.
The results left the industry optimistic. Businesses bought more trucks. Consumers are ready to buy and banks are offering low interest rates and looser credit terms.
The stock market may also have inspired car buyers. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index had its strongest January since 1997, and new-car purchases tend to rise or fall with the market. Also, employers have been hiring at a steady pace.
“We’re in a fundamentally sound trajectory,” said Mustafa Mohatarem, chief economist for GM.
Whatever the incentive, people didn’t let chilly weather, or the heavier hand of the U.S. Treasury, stop them from car shopping.
Sales ran at an annual pace of 15.3 million in January. If that holds for the rest of the year, automakers will sell nearly 1 million more vehicles than in 2012.
Analysts predict full-year sales of 15 million to 15.5 million this year. The industry could sell 5 million more cars and trucks than it did in 2009.
The strong January numbers came even though higher taxes reduced take-home pay for most Americans. Taxes rose after a 2-percent reduction in Social Security taxes that was in place for two years expired Jan. 1.
Toyota sales jumped on the strength of the Prius hybrid cars and wagon, which rose 36 percent, and the new Avalon sedan, which was up 50 percent.
At Ford, January’s sales growth was led by the newly redesigned Fusion midsize car, which saw a 65 percent increase. Explorer SUV sales rose 46 percent.
Sales of Ford’s F-Series pickup rose 22 percent. GM’s Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups each saw increases of over 30 percent.
Chrysler’s Ram pickup sales rose 14 percent from a year earlier.