Chrysler once again led the pack as US auto sales continued to grow in February amid an improving overall economic outlook and despite concerns about rising fuel prices, automakers said Thursday.
Ford forecast that overall industry sales would increase by 10 percent in February once all automakers's sales reports are in Thursday, while the sales pace would come in at a seasonally adjusted, annualized rate in the high 14 million-to-15 million vehicle range.
"We are encouraged by the strong performance in the first two months of the year," Ford economist Jenny Lin said in a conference call.
"We've been waiting for this because average vehicle age is above 10 years and the pent-up demand has built up."
Ford posted a 14 percent rise in February sales in the United States, to 179,119 vehicles, and said it planned to increase second-quarter production by three percent from last year to 730,000 vehicles.
"Sales momentum built as February unfolded, with higher fuel prices driving consumer demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles in the second half of the month," said Ken Czubay, Ford's head of US sales.
Chrysler's US auto sales jumped 40 percent in February from a year ago, racking up nearly two years of growth and the ninth straight month of gains above 20 percent.
Chrysler said it has also outpaced the overall industry sales rate for the 12th month in a row, thanks in part to its broad portfolio of fuel-efficient vehicles.
"A few years ago higher fuel prices were a major threat to our total vehicle sales whereas today those higher prices have become far less of an issue," Reid Bigland, who heads Chrysler's US sales, said in a statement.
"We now have 13 vehicles with an EPA-rated highway fuel economy of 25 miles per gallon or higher, and six of those vehicles get 31 mpg or higher."
In February, Chrysler's sales surge was led by a 126 percent jump in cars sales to 133,521 vehicles, while truck sales rose 20 percent.
General Motors, the world's top automaker by sales, said US sales rose a modest 1.1 percent to 209,306 vehicles compared with what it called a "very strong" performance in February 2011.
"It's an affirmation of our progress," Don Johnson, head of GM's US sales, said in a statement.
"We are continuing to execute the same disciplined sales strategy that was the key to our success in 2011."