General Motors has defied gloomy analyst predictions by raising its estimate for US light vehicle sales on the back of the strong start in January and positive signs in February, The Financial Times (FT) said.

The newspaper cited GM North American president Gary Cowger saying the company expected a total 2002 US light vehicle market of 15.4m to 15.8m units, up from previous estimates of 15m to 15.5m. Cowger added that he expects GM to improve upon last year’s US market share of 28.1 per cent, the FT said.

US car industry sales fell 5 per cent in January but came in at levels above 16 million units annually, if the month was repeated all year, the FT said.

“Nail a couple more months worth of 16 (million units on an annualised basis) and here we go,” Cowger told the FT while attending the Chicago Auto Show.

The FT said that many analysts had expected strong sales from last year to “pull-ahead” sales that probably would have happened this year. However, Cowger responded that it could be that the market for cars is currently stronger than some predict.