U.S. light-vehicle sales finished January slightly above expectation, kicking off a good start to 2012 and putting the recovery on a solid pace.

The market recorded its 17th consecutive year-over-year monthly increase based on daily selling rates, and January’s 14.1 million-unit seasonally adjusted annual rate is by far the highest for the month since 15.5 million in 2008.

The SAAR also is well above year-ago’s 12.6 million units and marks the best for any month since the government-subsidized (Cash-for-Clunkers) 14.2 million in August 2009. Prior to then, the last time the SAAR was higher was 14.2 million in May 2008.

Industry LV volume reached 910,617 units in January. That equates to a daily rate of 37,942, 11.5% above year-ago’s 34,035 – 24 selling days both periods.

The industry increase comes in spite of market leader General Motors suffering a 6.1% decline, as sales fell to 167,962 from like-2011’s 178,897.

However, helping tip the scale in the other direction was Chrysler, which reported a whopping 44.0% increase in volume to 100,612.

Additionally, Nissan’s deliveries increased a solid 10.4% to 79,313 in the month.

Among other volume leaders, Honda’s sales rose 8.8% to 83,009 units, Ford’s deliveries gained 7.9% to 134,291 and Toyota posted a 7.5% rise to 124,540.

Also helping to push the market up from year-ago levels was Kia, with a gain of 27.8% to 35,517 units, and Subaru, up 20.9% to 22,807. It marked the best January on record for both auto makers.

Volkswagen-brand sales jumped 47.9% year-over-year in January, while its luxury-brand sibling, Audi, netted a 19.7% gain.

Hyundai deliveries rose 14.7%, while Mazda (up 68.2% and its best January in 18 years), BMW (5.8%), Jaguar/Land Rover (30.7%) and Porsche (6.3%) also posted increases.

U.S. LV inventory ended January at an estimated 2.66 million units, 9.5% above year-ago. That equates to a days’ supply of 70, compared with year-ago’s 71.

hstoddard@wardsauto.com