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Detroit, Toyota see big US sales gains in January

DETROIT -- American consumers ignored tax increases and trudged through winter weather to buy new cars and trucks at an unusually strong pace last month. It was the auto industry's best January since 2008.

U.S. auto sales rose 14 percent to more than 1 million. Toyota's 27-percent gain was the biggest among the major car companies. Ford's sales jumped 22 percent, while GM and Chrysler each reported 16-percent gains compared with a year earlier.

The results left the industry optimistic about the new year. Businesses bought more trucks. Consumers are ready to buy — their cars have reached a record average of 11.3 years old — and banks are making it easier with low interest rates and looser credit terms.

The stock market may also have inspired car buyers. The Standard & Poor's 500 index had its strongest January since 1997, and new-car purchases tend to rise or fall with the market. Also, employers have been hiring at a steady — if not spectacular — pace.

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