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By Marty Padgett

Strong retail numbers pushed car sales higher in January, with double-digit gains scored by five of the Big Six automakers and by a host of other brands. For the month, J.D. Power and Associates and LMC Automotive estimate the pickup at 8%, with a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) at the retail level of 12.9 million units and, overall, of 15 million units.

The industry's recovery isn't quite complete, but the end is in sight, reports John Humphrey, senior vice president of global automotive operations at J.D. Power and Associates. The fast start to sales bodes well for the rest of the year, he says, and he believes sales "remain on a trajectory to return to pre-recession levels within the next few years." By the numbers, General Motors (NYSE:GM) sales were up 15.9%; Ford's (NYSE:F) rose 22%; Toyota (NYSE:TM) was up almost 27%; Chrysler was up 16%; Honda (NYSE:HMC) sales climbed 12.8%; and Nissan (OTCPK:NSANY) sales were up 2%.

This year could see overall sales approach 15.1 million units on an annualized basis, says Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive. "The good news is that the U.S. market is primed to over-deliver as the recovery heats up," he says. That recovery continues to waver, however. Today, the Department of Labor reported that January's unemployment rate was 7.9%, up from 7.8% the month before, with the nation adding only 157,000 jobs in the month.

The complete sales figures, as reported by automakers:

General Motors: GM sold 194,699 vehicles in January, a 15.9% increase over last year's numbers. Each of its brands was up on the month: Chevrolet sold 137,304 vehicles for a 10.9% increase; after its North American Car of the Year for the 2013 ATS, Cadillac posted a 47% sales gain for its best month in 23 years, with sales totaling 13,116 units. Buick moved 13,463 vehicles, an increase of 31.9%, and GMC was up 23.4% to 30,816 units. GM says truck sales were up 32% on the month, but notes it's carrying an 80-day supply of units to be sold, on the high end of usually accepted figures, while it prepares for the launch of the 2014 Chevy Silverado and 2014 GMC Sierra.

Ford: Ford Motor Company reports sales of 166,501 vehicles in January, a 22% boost over the same period last year. The Ford brand's 162,310 sales were good for a 23.3% rise, while Lincoln's 4,191 sales represented an 18.2% drop-off. The 2013 Fusion -- our Best Car To Buy -- had a 65% sales increase on the month, and Ford F-Series sales were up almost 22%, while Mustang was off a little more than 3%.

Toyota/Lexus/Scion: Toyota says it sold 157,725 units in January 2013, up 26.6% on an unadjusted raw volume basis and 21.6% on an adjusted basis. The Toyota division moved 141,514 units, up 26.1% on an unadjusted basis, 21% on an adjusted basis. The Lexus brand accounted for 16,211 units, up 26.8% unadjusted and 32.1% on an adjusted basis. Scion was up 38.4%.

Chrysler: Chrysler reported January sales of 117,731 units, up 16% over the same period a year ago. All of its brands were up except Jeep. The namesake Chrysler brand was up 18% to 20,696 vehicles, while Dodge rose 37% to 43,227 units. Jeep was off 4%, as it switches over to new model year production for Grand Cherokee and the end of production for the last-generation Liberty. Ram truck sales grew to 20,987 units, up 14%, and Fiat 500 sales were up 31% over the same period in 2012, to 2,503 units. With most models performing better, the Dodge Grand Caravan saw its sales drop 39%.

Honda/Acura: Honda reported sales of 93,626 vehicles in January, for a sales increase of 12.8%. The Honda brand accounted for 84,137 units, up 12.7% from a year ago, while Acura sales rose 13.2%, at 9,489 units. Sales of the revamped 2013 Accord are up more than 75% from a year ago. However, sales of the Insight hybrid were off almost 38%, and the TSX sport sedan, almost 44%.

Nissan/Infiniti: The Nashville-based automaker says its sales in January rose 2% over the year-ago period, to 80,919 units. Sales of Nissan-brand vehicles grew by 73,793 units, up 1.8%; the Leaf electric car slid to 650 sales for the month, on the run-out of 2012 models. Infiniti sales were up 4.9%, to 7,126 units.

Hyundai (OTC:HYMLY): CEO John Krafcik checked in by Twitter on Monday morning night with the brand's numbers: "All-time record January Hyundai sales +2%, paced by all-new Santa Fe, +24%, featured #SuperBowl Sunday..." January sales totaled 43,713 units, up 2.4% vs. 2012. Sales of Accent, Sonata, and Equus were down, and when sales are adjusted for actual selling days during the month, the brand's numbers were down just under 2% for the month.

Kia (OTC:KIMTF): Kia reported an all-time record January with 36,302 vehicles sold, a 2.2% increase over the same period in 2012.

Volkswagen (OTCPK:VLKAF): Volkswagen says it sold 29,018 vehicles for its best January since 1974. In all, sales were up 6.7%; the Jetta slipped a little more than 5%, while the U.S.-built Passat saw a sales increase of more than 40% for the month.

Subaru: Subaru sales were up to 27,663 vehicles in January, which the company says is an increase of 21% over the year-ago period.

Mercedes-Benz: The German automaker reports sales of 24,059 units in January, up 10.7% over January 2012, and a record for the month. The Mercedes-Benz brand totaled 22,501 units.

Mazda (OTCPK:MZDAY): Mazda sales fell to 21,319 vehicles in January, a drop of 11.2%.

BMW/MINI: BMW and MINI sold 20,195 vehicles in January, up 2.3% from the same period in 2012. The BMW nameplate accounted for 16,513 units, up 0.7%; MINI sold 5,248 vehicles, up 10.5%.

Audi (OTCPK:AUDVF): Audi sold 10,056 vehicles in January, up 7.5% and its 25th consecutive month of year-over-year record sales.

Jaguar/Land Rover: Jaguar Land Rover North America says it sold 5,229 vehicles combined, up 25% from a year ago. Land Rover sales accounted for 4,200 units, up 31%, while Jaguar sold 1,029 units, up 4%.

Volvo (OTCPK:VOLVY): Volvo says it sold 4,875 vehicles in the U.S. in January, an increase of 9.3%, and its best January since 2008.

Mitsubishi: Mitsubishi sold 4,659 vehicles in January, off 1% from its year-ago totals.

Porsche (OTCPK:POAHF): Porsche sold 3,358 vehicles in January, another record for the month, up 32% over the same period a year ago.

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Source: January 2013 Car Sales: A Super Kickoff