GM exec says January US sales strong so far

DETROIT (AP) ? General Motors’ top North American executive says U.S. auto sales are off to strong start in January.

North American President Mark Reuss said Tuesday that the sales growth GM and the U.S. industry saw at the end of 2011 is continuing through the first 10 days of the month.

“I think we’re off to a good start. I think the industry is off to a good start,” Reuss said at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

November and December were among the strongest months last year for U.S. car and truck sales. Buyers were drawn by cheap loans and an improving economy. Pent-up demand also was robust last year because many people had to replace aging vehicles. The average age of a car on U.S. roads is approaching 11 years.

GM’s U.S. sales rose 13 percent last year, even faster than the industry as a whole, which saw sales climb 10 percent to 12.8 million vehicles. Sales could rise by another million this year, analysts say.

So far, January sales are running at an annual pace of about 13.5 million cars and trucks, says Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends for the auto pricing website.

January normally is one of the lowest sales months of the year as bad weather and overspending during the holidays keep buyers from visiting showrooms. But unemployment, housing starts, the stock market and consumer confidence all are rising, making car buyers more confident, Toprak said.

“They do feel better about buying a car now than they have in the last three years,” Toprak said.

He said people are buying small- and midsize cars, as well as midsize crossover SUVs, which are based on car frames. Models selling well include the Toyota RAV-4 and Honda CR-V crossovers. Cars include the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze and Honda Civic, he said.

People who are replacing older models are downsizing, but spending a lot of money on smaller vehicles by equipping them with extra features, he said.