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March Auto Sales May Be Highest since Before Great Recession

March Auto Sales May Be Highest since Before Great Recession

By Jeff Youngs, April 03, 2013
Consumers visited auto showrooms in March with more confidence, ready to replace aging vehicles, despite the ongoing debate in Congress regarding the nation's growing debt. Buyers were enticed by new products and lower finance rates and were ready to spend tax refunds, according to news reports. Sales of large pickups and crossovers (CUV) are outpacing auto industry average gains as a result of more activity in the housing construction business and leveling gas prices.*

It is likely that sales of new vehicles in the United States during March hit their best mark in close to six years and some brands even reported sales records in March--BMW, Nissan, and Subaru among them. J.D. Power and Associates and its strategic partner LMC Automotive reported that total car and truck sales reached 1.45 million units in March, which is an increase of 7.4% on a selling-day adjusted basis from the same month a year ago. There was one fewer selling day last month than in March 2012. Here are sales highlights:

  • All three Detroit-based auto companies (Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler) celebrated gains and set some sales records for individual models--especially for their compact crossovers and pickup truck models.
  • Chrysler Group posted a near double-digit gain in March with especially strong car deliveries. Monthly sales records were set for Dodge Dart, Avenger, and Challenger car models. Chrysler Group said sales in March were its best since December 2007, even though Chrysler and Jeep brands posted weaker numbers.
  • New-vehicle sales at Ford Motor rose 5.7% on an unadjusted basis and in double digits when adjusted for one fewer selling day. Ford's Fusion midsize sedan and Escape compact CUV reaped monthly sales records. Also, America's best-selling model, the F-Series pickup, posted a double-digit increase from last March. However, Lincoln put a damper on things, as it continued to slowly ramp up production of its new MKZ sedan model.
  • Largest U.S. automaker, General Motors, also had a stellar month with double-digit gains for Cadillac and Buick. Unadjusted sales were up 6.4%. Demand for refreshed compact CUVs--the Acadia, Enclave and Traverse--added more momentum to GM totals in March. Sales of the Silverado large pickup improved, although the redesigned model will not be in showrooms until this quarter.
  • In early reports, Japan's Toyota and Nissan Groups also reported sales increases in March from a year ago with strong performances for crossovers and trucks. Nissan's small gain still gave it its strongest monthly performance in the U.S. market on record. Pathfinder sales were strong and Nissan's Leaf EV more than doubled deliveries to buyers. The model is now being produced in Smyrna, TN, and is priced lower than the previous version.
  • Toyota's 4.8% improvement on a selling-rate adjusted basis was good news for the automaker since last year's sales in March were also very strong. A Toyota official pointed out that March was the best sales month for the company since the Cash for Clunkers program in August of 2009. Models such as the Corolla, RAV4, and trucks--the Tacoma and Tundra--were high performers. Prius, which has been a strong seller, posted a decline from a year ago.
  • Honda Group outperformed many of the major automakers in March. The Japanese automaker said sales climbed more than 11% from a year ago on a selling-rate adjusted basis. The unadjusted increase was 7.1%. Accord midsize sedan sales were up by 41%--to 36,504 unit sales for the month. Acura also resonated with luxury buyers--sales were up by more than one-third from a year ago with a strong performance for the RDX.
  • South Korea's Hyundai and Kia brands were short on inventory and sold fewer units in March than a year ago. Hyundai sales were basically flat and it still managed to record its second-best sales month in the U.S. market. Both the Elantra and redesigned Santa Fe outpaced the industry in March. Kia was constrained by a lack of Forte compact models since a refreshed version is about to be introduced. A new Soul is also in the wings as well.
  • Among European automakers, Volkswagen Group posted a single-digit increase with nearly 23% of its Volkswagen brand deliveries powered by TDI clean diesel engines. Volkswagen March sales in the U.S. market were the strongest in 40 years. Sales of the new Beetle and the Tiguan outpaced the industry. The group's Audi and Porsche brands also bolstered the automaker's sales in March with strong double-digit gains.
  • BMW Group reported its best-ever March sales for the BMW brand with 27,078 unit sales--fewer than 1,000 units ahead of Daimler's Mercedes-Benz brand and some 4,000 units ahead of Toyota's Lexus brand. Both of these brands also celebrated near double-digit gains from last year. Top performers for BMW included the Z4 Roadster, the 6 Series and the three Sports Activity Vehicles--X3, X5, and X6.
  • The smaller car brands of the German automaker posted slightly less stellar results. BMW's Mini brand posted a small single-digit gain, while Daimler's Smart brand sold fewer vehicles than in March a year ago.
  • Among independent brands, Subaru continued to sell more vehicles than it did a year ago, with help from the new BRZ sports car and Crosstrek CUV, while Mazda sales remained stable with last March and Mitsubishi Motors posted a decline although the Outlander Sport posted its best month's sales ever.
  • Brands owned by automakers in India and China, Tata Motors and Geely's Volvo, respectively, reported mixed results. Tata Motors' Jaguar and Land Rover brands posted stronger deliveries, while Geely's Volvo brand said sales declined from a year ago.

*In the U.S. market, a gallon of regular gas at the pump averaged $3.64 on April 2, which was down from $3.66 a week ago and $3.75 a month ago. A year ago, the price per gallon at the pump was $3.93, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report. The price per gallon still averages more than $4 per gallon in Alaska, California, and Hawaii.

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