DETROIT — U.S. sales of cars and trucks rose in January, a strong start to what the auto industry hopes will be an extension of last year's recovery.
In another good sign, sales to individuals were better than sales to fleet buyers such as rental-car companies, which are far less profitable for automakers
General Motors and Chrysler said sales rose 23 percent in January. Ford had a smaller gain of 9 percent.
Overall January sales hit an annual rate of 12.6 million when adjusted for seasonal changes.
"Consumers are driving much of the gains that we're seeing in the industry," said Don Johnson, vice president of U.S. sales for GM. "January signals a good start to the year for us, for the industry, and we think it's a good sign for the overall U.S. economy."
A year ago, fleet sales spiked to high levels as businesses started buying again after the recession.
But in January, consumers were back in showrooms.
GM's sales to individual buyers rose 36 percent while fleet sales dropped 7 percent. Ford and Chrysler also said their fleet sales fell.
Chrysler's sales increase was driven by strong demand for the entire Jeep brand. Sales of the Grand Cherokee sport utility vehicle, the brand's newest offering, rose 130 percent.
Toyota recovered from January 2010, as sales rose 17 percent. The previous January, it lost an estimated 20,000 sales after it recalled eight models because of defective gas pedals.
Other automakers reporting sales were:
• Hyundai said sales rose 22 percent. Sales of the revamped Sonata sedan, which went on sale early in 2010, nearly doubled in January, while sales of the newly redesigned Elantra rose 26 percent.
• Honda said sales rose 13 percent. The CR-V was Honda's top-selling model as sales rose 69 percent.
• Nissan sales rose 15 percent on the strength of its Rogue vehicle. Nissan also sold 87 Leaf electric vehicles. January was the Leaf's second month on the market.
• Kia sales rose 26 percent, led by the Sorento, which blends the features of a car and an SUV, and the Optima sedan.