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March 2015 Auto Sales Up Slightly; Mixed Results for Major Automakers

March 2015 Auto Sales Up Slightly; Mixed Results for Major Automakers

By Philly Murtha, April 02, 2015

March sales of new cars and light trucks edged up a slight half point from the same month's deliveries in 2014. Still, results were encouraging because last year's totals were primed by the end of extremely tough winter storms in the Midwest and Northeast. This year, there was still snow on the ground in some regions as well. Deliveries rose by about 4% when totals are adjusted for one less selling day in March 2015. However, results were mixed for multi-franchise automakers.

In March, U.S. consumers purchased or leased some 1.5 million new vehicles. Alec Gutierrez, a market analyst for Kelley Blue Book, told the Associated Press that March is usually one of the strongest months of the year, as buyers spend tax returns and Japanese automakers offer good deals so they can close out their fiscal years on a high note.

Light trucks, including pickups and especially CUVs, continued to be favored vehicles in the U.S. market, helped by cheap gasoline prices and better economic conditions for consumers.

At the corporate level, BMW (+12.2%); Daimler (+9%); Hyundai-Kia (+10%); and Toyota (+4.9%) Groups reported increases in March (unadjusted) and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) posted a 1.7% increase over last March.

Detroit-based General Motors, which sold slightly fewer than 250,000 units in March, reported that its sales edged down 2.4% and Ford Motor Co. sales declined 3.4% from a year ago. In addition, sales for Asian-based major corporate groups Nissan (-2.7%) and Honda (-5.3%) were also lower than a year ago. Volvo sales were stable in March at 5,916 units.

Among the three independents, Subaru continued to reap double-digit gains (+10.4%) and reported a March sales record. It was the 13th consecutive month of sales exceeding 40,000 units for Subaru. Legacy sales soared 90% from a year ago. Deliveries for Mitsubishi rose by 8.5% and said it had its highest sales to date for the Mirage. In contrast, Mazda sales fell 8%, even with a 32% gain from its Mazda 6, which has been refreshed for 2016.

At the brand level, BMW held onto the luxury sales lead in March, followed by Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, and Audi, respectively. Although Ford brand sales dropped 3.4% in March from a year ago, it remained the month's top-selling nameplate, followed by Toyota, Chevrolet, and Nissan, respectively.

Highlights: March 2015 Car Sales
Overall U.S. light-vehicle sales in March totaled more than 1.53 million units--slightly above some analyst expectations, and on track with J.D. Power and LMC Automotive forecasts. Unadjusted total sales were up one-half point above last year's same month totals, which is in line with J.D. Power's total (retail and fleet) sales estimate of 1.539 million units and equates to a 4% improvement on a selling-day-adjusted basis.

American Honda--Although the automaker posted a 5.3% sales decline in March, the Fit subcompact posted a 58% climb with sales of 6,640 units. The Pilot also performed well--sales rose 34%. Sales for Honda's Acura line surged nearly 13%, with TLX, MDX and RDX maintaining strength.

BMW Group--The group's sales rose in double digits--up 12.2% from March 2014. BMW brand sales were up 7%, to 34,310 units in March, which helped the luxury brand post a first-quarter sales record. A 17% increase from BMW car sales offset a 20% decline in its CUV deliveries. Mini sales soared by nearly 60%.

Daimler AG--Mercedes-Benz said it had its highest March sales ever and gained ground with a 10.2% improvement, which nearly offset a sales decline from its Smart city car unit. The C-Class, E-Class, and M-Class models were volume leaders in March.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles--The Detroit automaker continued its streak of sales increases and said in a statement that it posted its 60th consecutive month of year-over-year gains. Car sales, which account for about one-third of the group's totals, grew and the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 posted their best monthly sales ever. Jeep brand sales surged 23% on an unadjusted basis. Sales dipped 5% for the Fiat brand.

Ford Motor Company--Leading Ford brand's sales declined in March, even with generous gains for its commercial van and Explorer models. The new F-Series demand continued to ramp up, even though sales of Ford's full-size pickup dipped 4.6% and its Escape compact CUV sales were down 8%. Sales on the car side--Fiesta, Focus, and Fusion--were down and could not be bolstered by a double-digit gain for the Mustang. Ford noted in a press release that the company increased retail sales and posted a 13% decline in fleet sales, which are less profitable than retail sales.

General Motors--Truck brand GMC deliveries improved 1.3% and Buick recorded a fractional 0.5% gain. Chevrolet (-3.2%) and Cadillac (-6.8%) sales fell from a year ago, while Chevrolet full-size pickup sales climbed. Car deliveries were down companywide. High-volume Impala and Malibu car sales sank, while Equinox and Traverse CUV sales were up in double digits. Although Cadillac sales dipped, sales of the new Escalade more than doubled in March.

Hyundai Group--The Hyundai brand (+12%) had its best sales month ever and news reports said that incentives helped bolster the brand's deliveries. The redone Genesis model's sales more than doubled, while the Elantra and Accent also were strong sellers. Kia (+7.3%) also recorded its best March deliveries, led by Optima, Soul, and the all-new 2016 Sorento.

Nissan Group--Light-truck deliveries improved for the Nissan brand mainly due to demand for its CUVs--the Rogue, Murano, and Pathfinder. Sentra compact sedan sales also improved in March by 10%. Infiniti sales were stable in March (+0.2%).

Toyota Group--Sales of Toyota models increased 4.4% and were bolstered by an 8.6% increase at Lexus. The company said its light-truck sales set a March record and its Corolla compact car posted record deliveries of 35,532 units (+19.7%). Small CUVs were best sellers. The RAV4 saw a 28% gain and Lexus' new NX and RC boosted deliveries.

Volkswagen Group--Group sales were off 6.2% from a year ago because the VW brand continued to falter (-18%) even though its new Golf sold more than twice as many units in March and the automaker had double-digit gains from its luxury Audi and Porsche brands. Porsche's new Macan bolstered brand totals with 1,180 incremental sales.

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