Analysis

Despite snowstorms that closed numerous dealerships across the country at the beginning of the month, U.S. auto makers are expected to sell more than 921,000 light vehicles in February.

The 18.4% increase from year-ago forecast by Ward’s equates to 38,412-unit daily selling rate over 24 days.

The expected volume translates to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 12.4 million units, a decline from the prior month’s 12.5 million, but on par with the current rolling 3-month SAAR.

The forecast DSR represents a 12.9% increase over January’s selling rate (also 24 days), which is in line with historical sales shifts from January to February. While storm-related shutdowns slowed showroom traffic initially, Ward’s expects buyers to pick up the slack in the second half of the month.

Related document: Ward’s U.S. Lt. Vehicle Sales and Inventory Forecast

General Motors could see deliveries increase as much as 35% from like-2010 to nearly 185,000 units. At that level, GM’s DSR would increase just 3.2% from January’s rate, which was boosted by unexpectedly aggressive marketing and incentives programs.

Seasonal trends likely will push Chrysler sales some 23% over prior month, a 1.9% jump from the auto maker’s resurgent February 2010 results. Such a performance would put Chrysler back in the No.5 sales spot after being shoved to the sixth position by Nissan in January.

Ford also should see a nearly 23% month-to-month spike in daily sales and a 12.3% increase from like-2010, with volume topping 150,000 units to net the company a 16.2% share of the market.

Collectively, the Detroit Three are forecast to claim a 45.9% market share, their highest take since June.

While February is traditionally a low-volume month for Toyota, the auto maker should outperform historical trends, thanks to incentive programs launched this month in an apparent response to GM’s January actions.

Toyota typically sees a single-digit percentage increase from January to February but is likely to improve its sales 10% over prior month and 27.4% over last February, which was deflated by recalls and subsequent suspension of sales.

Even if it does buck historical precedent, Toyota still is expected to see its share fall below 14%.

Honda likely will improve on its 9.3% January market penetration, but the No.4 auto maker’s sales take probably will remain below 10% on forecast sales of 88,000 units.

Nissan is expected to earn an 8.6% market share, besting the forecast 8.2% stake for Hyundai-Kia.

Ward’s currently is calling for 2011 full-year sales above 13 million units, with monthly SAARs ranging from 12.3 million to 12.8 million units through much of the second quarter.

jsousanis@wardsauto.com