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Trucks, SUVs drive US vehicle sales in January

A Chrysler Ram 1500 truck goes through the assembly line at the Warren Truck Assembly Plant in Warren, Michigan.
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January U.S. car sales by the three Detroit-based automakers topped analysts' expectations, as low gasoline prices and easy credit terms helped fuel sales of utility vehicles and big pickups.

Full-size trucks and SUVs are among the industry's most profitable vehicles. But some companies were having trouble supplying dealers with enough of those high-margin models in January.

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Sales of trucks and SUVs accounted for 69 percent of January sales at General Motors, Ford Motor, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, compared with 66 percent a year ago, according to a Reuters analysis.

GM said on Tuesday that January sales rose 18 percent to 202,786 vehicles, while Ford said sales were up 15 percent to 178,351. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected 201,436 and 173,431, respectively.

Fiat Chrysler's U.S. arm said January sales rose 14 percent to 145,007 vehicles, against analysts' expectations of 144,476.

"As the price of gasoline goes down, people want to buy bigger vehicles that go faster," said Mike Jackson, chief executive officer of AutoNation Inc. "That's just human nature."

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Ford sold a record 54,370 F-series pickups in January and said the redesigned 2015 F-150 remained in short supply, particularly high-end versions including the King Ranch and Platinum editions.

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GM said combined sales of its full-size Chevrolet Silverado and GMC

Sierra pickups were up 22 percent to 48,727. Sales of the automaker's new mid-size Colorado and Canyon pickups totaled 8,147.

At Fiat Chrysler, Jeep sales climbed 23 percent and Ram trucks rose 21 percent.

January sales topped expectations at Toyota Motor and Nissan Motor, but lagged at Honda Motor.

Toyota sales of 169,194 were up 16 percent, including record sales by its premium Lexus brand.

Sales at Nissan jumped 15 percent to 104,107. Nissan's performance was driven in part by strong results of its Rogue, Pathfinder and Murano utility vehicles, as well as its Versa, Sentra and Altima sedans.

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Honda said record January sales of 102,184 were up 12 percent from a year ago, narrowly missing analysts' expectations. Sales of the Civic and Accord were down, but the best-selling CR-V crossover jumped 22 percent.

Chrysler's U.S. industry sales in January were projected at an annual rate of 17.0 million, including about 300,000 medium and heavy trucks.

A Reuters survey of 47 analysts estimated an annual rate of 16.6 million, which does not include the larger trucks.