(REUTERS) -- Chrysler Group LLC reported a hefty 44-percent gain in U.S. auto sales in January, led by its Jeep brand, while Ford Motor Co posted a 7 percent gain, falling short of some analyst estimates.

Ford, the No. 2 U.S. automaker, sold 136,710 cars and trucks in January, spurred by a 60 percent jump in sales of the Focus small car. Jefferies analyst Peter Nesvold predicted an 8.1 percent increase for Ford, while Edmunds.com expected a 9 percent gain.

Chrysler's sales were expected to be up about 35 percent, according to Edmunds and TrueCar.com. The smallest U.S. automaker also reported its fourth-quarter results on Wednesday.

Chrysler in 2011 was No. 4 in U.S. auto sales, behind leader General Motors Co , Ford Motor Co and Toyota Motor Corp.

U.S. auto sales, an early indication of consumer demand each month, are expected to show a 6 percent rise in January. Older cars, which now average a record 11 years old, are helping to boost new car sales as people trade them in after delaying purchases during the economic downturn.

Volkswagen of America and Nissan Motor Co. reported gains as well. VW sales rose 48 percent to 27,209 vehicles, buoyed by the introduction of its Passat sedan, built in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Nissan sales in the United States rose 10.4 percent to 79,313.

GM sales are expected to show a decline from last January.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall, Ben Klayman and Deepa Seetharaman; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)