Ford sales were up 25% and GM up 14% and the companies noted greatly increased fleet sales – Ford up 150% and GM up 225% - hinting at a recovering US economy. Both companies began offering incentives to Toyota owners to change their vehicles.

Taken together, the two companies captured 38% of the new vehicle market, a gain of about four points from the position a year ago. Chrysler, however, reported a sales decline 0f 8.1%, but even so said that was an improvement on December when sales hit an historic low.

Toyota is facing huge costs for vehicle recalls in the US and the rest of the world, but the major costs in the US, its most profitable market, have yet to be quantified. Apart from long-term reputational damage, the company faces government inquiries and litigation from groups and individuals who claim damages arising from the recalls.

Vehicle sales in Europe rose during January, but car manufacturers acknowledge that the second half of the year may not be as good as scrappage schemes draw to a close.

In China, passenger car sales were reported up 84% year-on-year and 5% up on December at 1.2 million units for the month. Analysts expect growth to exceed 10% this year, but The China Business Journal said that the explosive growth of the past two years may result in excess manufacturing capacity by 2012. Demand is expected to reach 20 million units, but manufacturing capacity will be about 25 million.