U.S. auto sales maintain momentum despite rising fuel prices, budget cuts image

U.S. auto sales in February remain strong despite rising fuel prices and the threat of new government spending cuts, according to analysts.

LMC Automotive, the forecasting partner of J.D. Power and Associates, today projected a seasonally adjusted annualized sales rate of 15.2 million for February, based on the first 14 days of the month. LMC also raised its forecast for the full year by 200,000 units to 15.3 million light vehicles, citing an improving U.S. economy.

Auto sales rose 13 percent last year to 14.5 million units in the U.S., as the industry recovered from the recession low of 10.4 million recorded in 2009.

“Current fundamentals driving strong vehicles sales … are expected to get a boost by additional positive factors this year,” Jeff Schuster, LMC Automotive’s top auto forecaster, was quoted as saying by Automotive News. He cited an anticipated housing recovery, more new-model launches and a higher number of vehicles coming off lease among the positive factors.

Edmunds.com estimates February sales at 15.5 million on a seasonally adjusted annualized sales rate basis. “Car sales are persevering despite economic factors on people’s minds like rising gas prices and the implementation of the payroll tax,” said Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell in a statement.

Automakers plan to release February sales results on March 1.