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Fiat Chrysler, Honda Blame Frigid Cold as U.S. Sales Disappoint

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Honda Motor Co. reported smaller U.S. sales gain than expected and blamed frosty temperatures that kept some buyers at bay late last month.

Deliveries rose 2.5% for Fiat Chrysler and 1.5% for Honda in January, both missing analysts’ average estimates. Toyota Motor Corp. sales fell 6.6%, also trailing projections.

“In spite of some frigid January weather, we remain bullish on 2019 given the continued underlying strength of the US economy,” Reid Bigland, Fiat Chrysler’s head of U.S. sales, said in the statement. The automaker’s only brand to grow for the month was Ram, with a 24% surge in truck and van deliveries.

The annualized industry sales rate may have slowed to 16.9 million cars and light trucks in January, from 17.1 million a year ago, according to a Bloomberg News survey. Most analysts expect the market to decline in 2019 as interest rates rise and make it tougher for consumers to afford ever-costlier new vehicles.

Cold weather and a fire at a Michigan natural gas facility forced Fiat Chrysler and General Motors Co. to idle several plants this week to ration consumption. Temperatures fell to minus-12 Fahrenheit (minus 24 Celsius) in Detroit Thursday morning, with wind-chill values as low as minus-33, according to the National Weather Service. The two automakers resumed operations at most facilities Friday.

“Our sales were very strong in the beginning of the month,” Henio Arcangeli, senior vice president of automotive operations for Honda’s U.S. unit, said in a phone interview Thursday. “With the cold weather that’s hit, particularly this week, as well as the government shutdown that we had a little bit earlier, it has slowed things down a little bit.”

The red-hot Jeep brand had its first monthly drop since December 2017, which Fiat Chrysler blamed on freezing-cold conditions in the Midwest and Northeast.

“In contrast to previous months when Jeep was the champ, Ram saved the day,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst at Autotrader.

Fiat Chrysler put up weaker-than-expected numbers despite selling 50 percent more vehicles to fleet customers in the month. About 23% of Fiat Chrysler’s January deliveries went to fleets, up from a 16% share a year ago.