US car sales for January look likely to be up on the results a year ago thanks to incentives from the Detroit ‘big three’, Reuters said.

The news agency said that, though analysts' forecasts range widely, the average estimate of 16.2 million for January's seasonally adjusted annualised sales rate is above last January's result of 15.8 million, but well down on December's 18.3 million rate.

Reuters noted that Detroit “blitzed” consumers with rebates and 0% loan deals in December that hit an average of $3,119 per vehicle. While General Motors and Ford backed down slightly at the beginning of January, Chrysler raised its incentives on some truck models, and all three have added special end-of-the-month deals in the past few days, Reuters added.

According to Reuters, the result is that rebates on many models have reached $US3,000, with a few models breaching the $4,000 mark. All three automakers have expanded combination rebate-loan deals and cut-rate six-year loans, a move pioneered by Ford last year, the news agency added.

JD Power and Associates chief economist Bob Schnorbus told Reuters the new deals would likely push January's sales rate to about 16.7 million.

Reuters noted that several foreign car makers are offering loan deals, including no-interest deals, or rebates, although few come close to the size of those from Detroit.

Reuters said that GM is expected to report the weakest January among the Big Three, with sales down as much as 10%, after a booming December left inventories lean. Analysts expect Ford to report a sales increase, while Chrysler's results are seen flat or slightly down, Reuters added.