Ford Motor Co.'s sales rose 7 percent. Demand for the Ford Focus small car rose 60 percent, while sales of the Escape small SUV rose 24 percent. Ford is replacing the Escape with a new version later this year, and sales have been strong as dealers offer big discounts to clear out the old models.
Whiston said buyers will have plenty of options this year as Toyota and Honda recover and automakers launch major new products like the Dodge Dart and new versions of the Honda Accord and Ford Fusion.
"It will be a great time to be a consumer going into 2012," Whiston said.
But he cautions that buyers shouldn't expect big price breaks, since there are so many new products and companies are closely guarding their profits.
Buyers paid an average of $31,312 for a new car in January, including an average incentive of $2,206, according to Edmunds.com. Five years ago, buyers were getting about the same amount in incentives, but the average vehicle price was $27,966.
Other companies reporting sales Wednesday:
— Volkswagen of America reported a 48 percent rise in U.S. sales, led by the Jetta and Passat sedans.
— Nissan Motor Co.'s sales were up 10 percent with big jumps for the new Quest minivan and the Altima sedan.
— Hyundai Motor Co.'s sales rose nearly 15 percent thanks to the new Veloster small car.
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