Small Cars Pushing U.S. Auto Sales To Best Numbers In Years

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Another sign the improvement the economy is seeing could be real? A new sales report shows auto sales are the best they've been in four years.

Overall U.S. auto sales rose 16 percent to 1.1 million last month, largely on the strength of Detroit's small cars. The annual sales pace hit 15.1 million, the best rate in four years.

This even in the face of rising gas prices, as automakers have spent the last few years focusing on fuel-efficient models after being caught flat-footed when gas prices soared in 2008. When gas prices peaked at $4.12 in July 2008, sales from the Big Three plummeted more than 20 percent. That same month, sales of the fuel-sipping Toyota Corolla jumped 16 percent.

U.S. automakers have since spent billions to roll out smaller, more fuel-friendly cars, and are now reaping the benefits as small cars gain new popularity in the face of unseasonably high gas prices.

Ford Motor, General Motors and Chrysler Group all saw an increase in February sales, adding up to the best numbers American automakers have seen in four years.

"We are very well positioned as a company to thrive in a world of escalating gasoline prices," Bill Ford, chairman of Ford, told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

Experts agree, saying that U.S. automakers are far more prepared for the current gas spike than they were a few years ago.

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