DETROIT — The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu midsize family sedan, 2016 Honda Civic compact sedan and 2016 Jeep Cherokee SUV were among the favorites of car shoppers, who were largely undeterred from showrooms despite rough winter weather, according to the January car sales report.
Small cars continued to struggle, as trucks and SUVs outsold cars for the 29th straight month in January, according to Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds.com director of industry analysis.
"Low gas prices are making larger vehicles more appealing, to the detriment of smaller cars," Caldwell said.
The all-new Civic bucked that trend, as Honda cited "incredibly strong demand" for the car. Civic sales were up 54.9 percent to set a new January record.
Honda sales were down 1.7 percent overall in what the automaker called "an unusual month, as the industry endured winter weather on both coasts along with two fewer selling days."
Other major trends highlighted in the January report include the continued popularity of leasing and Fiat-Chrysler's "DiMaggio-like streak" as the automaker reported its 70th straight month of year-over-year gains.
"It doesn't hurt that the company is offering longer loan terms that drive down monthly payments," Caldwell said. "The average FCA loan term in January was 72.4 months, which was longer than any other major automaker, and exceeds the industry average of 68.4 months."
Caldwell noted that January is projected to deliver the highest lease penetration ever for a single month, with leases accounting for an estimated 31.6 percent of all new-vehicle transactions.
In other developments, Volkswagen continued to slump in the wake of its diesel-emissions scandal. The German automaker sold 20,079 vehicles in the U.S. in January, a decline of 15 percent from the same month a year ago.
However, it was the best January ever for the Volkswagen Golf R, and sales of the Volkswagen Tiguan were strong.
"January sales numbers were down due to the seasonal nature of the fleet business," said Mark McNabb, Volkswagen of America chief operating officer, in a statement. "Despite that and the weather conditions in the Northeast portion of the country, Volkswagen dealers improved in terms of retail business."
Fiat-Chrysler reported U.S. sales of 155,037, a 7 percent increase compared with sales in January 2015.
"Mother Nature was no match for our Jeep brand last month, as we recorded our best January Jeep sales ever," said Reid Bigland, Fiat-Chrysler head of U.S. sales, in a statement. "Overall, FCA US achieved its best January sales in nine years and our 70th consecutive month of year-over-year sales increases."
Nine Fiat-Chrysler vehicles set records in January. They are the Dodge Challenger, Dodge Charger, Dodge Journey, Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Compass, Jeep Patriot, Ram pickup truck, Ram ProMaster and Ram ProMaster City.
Nissan announced total U.S. sales of 105,734 units in January, an increase of 2 percent over the previous year and a January record.
Sales of the Nissan Murano increased 46 percent, while sales of the Nissan Rogue crossover were up 26 percent.
Hyundai touted its "best January sales month ever" in a tweet. It reported 45,011 sales, an improvement of 1 percent compared to January 2015.
January sales at General Motors were up a modest 0.5 percent, but the Detroit automaker had a rosy outlook for the months ahead.
"We believe industry fundamentals such as the age of the vehicle fleet, well-managed inventory levels, firm used-car pricing, good credit availability and low fuel prices will support higher industry sales in 2016," said Mustafa Mohatarem, GM's chief economist, in a statement. "In addition, household balance sheets are strong and the labor market continues to improve."
Buick turned in its best January retail performance since 2003, with the Buick LaCrosse sedan recording its best January total sales since 2010. The all-new Buick Cascada convertible is arriving now at Buick dealerships.
The redesigned 2016 Chevrolet Malibu accounted for about half of Malibu sales in January.
"Malibu had its best January retail sales since 1981," GM said.
Ford reported U.S. sales of 173,723 vehicles, a drop of 3 percent versus last year.
However, Ford said a "bright spot" was transaction price increases for the month.
"For Ford, overall transaction prices were up $1,800 in January (almost three times more than the overall industry average), driven largely by strong customer demand, especially for our SUVs and F-Series pickups," said Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, in a statement.
Edmunds says: Neither wind nor snow kept car shoppers from getting their dream vehicles in January.