Demand for light trucks in the U.S. continued to grow during the early going in 2013, with Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group LLC, and General Motors all posting robust sales numbers for month of January – for light vehicles overall as well as for light truck models.

Ford said its U.S. sales increased 22% overall to 166,501 units in January across its entire vehicle lineup, with sales of cars up 34%, utilities up 23%, and trucks up a little under 11% compared to January 2012.

In terms of trucks, Ford said it sold 46,841 F-Series trucks last month, a 21.7% jump over January 2012, with sales of its Transit Connect up 46.8% to 3,161 units and the soon-to-be-replaced E-Series witnessing a 17.7% sales increase to 7,987 units.

Overall, Ford’s truck division sold 58,627 units in January, a 10.8% increase over the same month last year.

Chrysler also experience strong demand for its pickups in the U.S., sold via its Ram Truck division. The company said sales of Ram-branded pickups overall shot up 14% in January versus the same month in 2012, with sales of light-duty models increasing 23% with heavy-duty model sales jumping 11%.

Overall, Chrysler said its U.S. sales jumped 16% to 117,731 units in January compared to the same month in 2012 – the company’s best January sales numbers since 2008, addedReid Bigland, Chrysler’s head of U.S. sales, who also noted that the company’s full year profits for 2012 reached $1.7 billion.

GM noted that it sold overall 194,699 vehicles in the U.S. in January, up 16% compared with the same month a year ago, with sales of its full-size Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups up 32% to 50,230 units.

“The year is off to a very good start for General Motors,” said Kurt McNeil, the company’s VP-U.S. sales operations. “There’s a sense of optimism among our dealers that only comes when you pair a growing economy with great new products.”

He noted that, over the course of 2013, Chevrolet will launch an all-new Impala, Silverado pickup and Corvette, as well as the Cruze diesel and Spark EV, while GMC will launch an all-new Sierra pickup. “Now in 2013, we’re entering the sweet spot of our product plan in a growing economy,” McNeil noted. 

Indeed, John Humphrey, senior VP- global automotive operations for J.D. Power and Associates, said that the new-vehicle selling rate this past January hit 812,600 units, representing a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 12.9 million units – well ahead of the expected 12.4-million-unit annual level for 2013.

"The year is off to a fast start, which bodes well for the remainder of 2013," he added. "Building on the momentum the industry has been gaining over the past two years, sales remain on a trajectory to return to pre-recession levels within the next few years."

Total light-vehicle sales in January topped 1.02 million units, an 8% increase from January 2012, with the fleet share expected to reach 21%, considerably lower than the 25 percent share in January 2012, which Humphrey said signals continued discipline in the industry-related rental car fleet sales.

Based on a strong finish in 2012 and a higher-than-expected pace at the start of 2013, LMC Automotive is increasing its 2013 U.S. forecast for total light-vehicle sales by 100,000 units to 15.1 million. In addition, the firm is boosting its outlook for retail light-vehicle sales increases to 12.4 million units from 12.2 million units for 2013.

"The global industry is looking for the U.S. to offset risk in Europe and potentially slower growth in the emerging markets in 2013," noted Jeff Schuster, LMC’s senior VP of forecasting."The good news is that the U.S. market is primed to over-deliver as the recovery heats up. The concern now is shifting from the continuing recovery to whether the automotive supply base will be able to keep up with hearty demand."

Schuster added that North America light-vehicle production reached 15.4 million units in 2012, some 18% higher than in 2011 and marking the first time since 2007 that North American production has surpassed 15 million units.

He further expects North American production to be 15.9 million units in 2013, a 3% increase from 2012, with further upside potential contingent on the pace of demand in the first half of the year. For 2014, LMC’s the North American production forecast is expected to increase to 16.6 million units.

"With inventory in check and demand remaining strong, all indications suggest that production levels – and automotive supplier profits – will be at a high pace during 2013 for North America," Schuster stressed.