CHICAGO — Automakers reported modest gains in February U.S. sales on Friday despite rising fuel prices and uncertainty over the impact of looming government budget cuts on a fragile economy.

The gains were nonetheless weaker than the double-digit growth reported in recent months as the auto industry recovers from the 2008 crash and credit crunch which led to a deep and painful recession.

But automakers seemed pleased with the results.

"Despite rising gas prices, severe winter storms and concerns about the federal budget, February was a good indication of the overall strength of the market," said Toyota sales chief Bill Fay.

General Motors forecast that total industry sales would come in at an adjusted, annualized rate of 15.5 million vehicles once all carmakers report their February numbers.

That's up drastically from the 14.5 million rate posted a year ago and modestly from the 15.3 million rate recorded in January.

"The housing sector has now joined auto sales in propelling the U.S. economy forward," GM sales chief Kurt McNeil said in a statement.

"More importantly, the recovery in new home construction is reinforcing the underlying improvement in auto buying conditions, especially for pickups."

GM's sales rose 7% to 224,314 vehicles in February as it prepares for major new vehicle launches in the coming months.

Toyota sales rose 4% to 166,377 vehicles.

Ford led the pack with a 9% gain to its best February performance since 2007 with 195,822 vehicles sold.

"As more new vehicle buyers continue returning to the marketplace, our fresh new product portfolio of fuel-efficient vehicles is winning over customers," Ford sales chief Ken Czubay said in a statement.

The second largest automaker also announced plans to boost its second quarter production by nine percent to 800,000 vehicles.

Chrysler posted its 35th straight month of gains as sales rose four percent to 139,015 vehicles.

The third largest automaker said its sales were curtailed as consumers waited for new models to reach the showrooms in the coming months. It reiterated that it expects first quarter sales to be lower than in 2012 as a result.

"In spite of a cautious ramp up of some of our most popular products which limited inventory last month, we still managed to record our strongest February sales in five years," Chrysler sales chief Reid Bigland said in a statement.

"Looking ahead, we expect to get our inventory gaps corrected over the next 90 days resulting in additional products contributing to our growth."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013