Mother Nature put the chill on US light vehicle sales in January as unusually harsh winter weather kept car buyers off the street and out of dealer showrooms, writes Bill Cawthon.

Automakers delivered just over a million cars and trucks last month, down 3.1% from January 2013. The seasonally adjusted annualised rate (SAAR) came in at 15.24m, up just 10,000 sales from 15.23m last year and well off the predicted 15.6m.

Soft car sales left both Ford and General Motors short of their marks from January 2013: Ford by 7.5%; GM by 11.9%. GM's troubles were compounded by continuing slow sales of its new full-size pickups. While the pickup market was down 2.9% in January, combined sales of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra fell 17.1%.

The Ford brand's 8.4% slump wiped out a very healthy 42.5% increase in Lincoln deliveries that came from a triple-digit surge in sales of the MKZ sedan.

Chrysler bucked the Detroit trend with a better-than-predicted 8.0% improvement driven by sales of Jeep models and the Ram pickup.

Sales of American-badged light vehicles were down 5.5% with a loss of 1.1% of the market.

Slow passenger car sales also took a toll on results reported by Honda and Toyota while Nissan came though with a healthy improvement, finishing January fewer than 1,200 sales behind Honda.

Among the second-tier Japanese companies, Mazda saw a dip in sales while Mitsubishi chalked up another month in the black and Subaru set another sales record.

Though total sales for the Japanese automakers were off by 0.5%, they picked up most of the share lost by the Detroit companies.

The Koreans returned to more normal turf as Hyundai and Kia turned small gains into new January sales records. Double-digit improvements in sales of the smaller models, such as the Hyunda Accent and Kia Rio, put both companies over the top.

Land Rover set its own new sales record for January and a nice, XF-fueled jump in Jaguar sales gave Jaguar Land Rover North America a 15.2% improvement and its best January sales since 2004.

Mercedes-Benz posted a January sales record and started the year in the top spot among premium brands with a nice lead over second-place BMW. BMW's MINI brand took a big hit in the numbers as it transitions to new models.

Audi squeaked by its January 2013 results by 45 sales but it was enough to add to its string of sales records.

Parent company Volkswagen is looking to the future, hoping the new Golf/GTI will reverse the prolonged slide that has dogged its sales in recent months.

While pickup sales were down slightly, light trucks were the story in January. Sales of pickups, SUVs and crossovers claimed 51.4% of last month's deliveries, up from 48.4% in January 2013, a trend fueled by moderate petrol prices. As oil prices are expected to remain reasonable for the foreseeable future, truck sales are likely to remain robust.

However, the pickup segment bears watching as it is a bellweather of the larger economy due to commercial and fleet sales.

Fuel prices are also likely to keep a lid on growth in the hybrid and electric vehicle market. Sales were soft in January.

Weather willing, perhaps February will give us a better idea of the kind of year 2014 will be.

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