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Morningstar: Weather Drove February Auto Sales Disappointment

Morningstar: Weather Drove February Auto Sales Disappointment
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Lower-than-expected February U.S. auto sales posted Tuesday were largely weather-related and pose no threat to full year targets, an analyst said.

"I don't see anything alarming," Morningstar analyst Richard Hilgert told Benzinga. "It's pretty much in the realm of what we were expecting."

Hilgert continues to forecast total U.S. vehicle sales for 2015 of between 16.8 million and 17.2 million, up about 2.7 percent from roughly 16.5 million in 2014.

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"It's been very cold - not the best time of years to be looking at cars in the first place," Hilgert said. "Even though we've had some horrible weather, we're still up by 4 percent."

Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) outsold General Motors Company (NYSE: GM) by a tiny margin, making it the leading U.S. brand in February.

General Motors' U.S. monthly sales growth of 4.2 percent was also outpaced by Honda Motor Co Ltd.'s (NYSE: HMC) 5 percent, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (NYSE: FCAU) 5.6 percent and Mazda Motor Corp.'s 5.4 percent.

"GM isn't exactly coming out on top as far as the total percentage increase for February, but they had a decent month," Hilgert said. "They did better than Ford."

Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F) posted a 2 percent decline in unit sales for the month while Toyota's U.S. sales grew 13 percent.

"It looks like Ford is losing market share" to Toyota, Hilgert said. "It might just be that the competition is a little fresher in certain areas."

Although at least part of Ford's decline was widely blamed on incomplete factory retooling for its redesigned F-150 pick-up truck, Hilgert noted that sales of many Ford models fell.

"I don't think there's any single factor that is driving Ford's under-performance," Hilgert said.

Lower gas prices probably had no effect on February unit sales, but may spur customers toward buying larger vehicles.

"It drives the needle to a more profitable product mix," Hilgert said.

Brianna Valleskey contributed to this report.

Image credit: CE Kent, Flickr

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