By Jerry Hirsch/Los Angeles Times (MCT)
March looks to have turned out to be one of the biggest months for auto sales in nearly six years.
The industry sold almost 1.5 million vehicles in March, about 5 percent more than the same month a year earlier and likely the most since the 1.6 million sold in May 2007, according to automotive information company Edmunds.com.
General Motors Co. said Tuesday that its U.S. sales rose more than 6 percent to 245,950 vehicles compared to the same month a year earlier, “thanks to a strengthening economy and new products,” said Kurt McNeil, vice president of U.S. sales operations.
Ford Motor Co. said it sold 236,160 vehicles last month, almost a 6 percent rise from the same period a year earlier.
Truck sales for Ford and the other Detroit automakers were particularly good as the truck-heavy home construction industry continues to recover in the U.S.
“Full-size pickup demand continues gaining momentum, outperforming the industry for the third consecutive month,” said Ken Czubay, Ford vice president for U.S. marketing, sales and service.
Chrysler Group said it sold 171,606 vehicles, a 5 percent increase over March 2012 and the group’s best monthly sales since December 2007. The automaker posted a 25 percent rise in Ram pickup truck sales.
“Chrysler Group has now achieved year-over-year sales gains in every month for the past three years,” said Reid Bigland, the automaker’s U.S. sales chief.
Toyota Motor Corp. reported monthly U.S. sales of 205,342 vehicles, up 1 percent.
“The auto industry continued its string of impressive monthly results, and at Toyota we had our best month since Cash for Clunkers in August of 2009,” said Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations, Toyota Motor Sales in the U.S. “A strong first-quarter close and increased consumer confidence continue to position the auto industry as a leader in the economic recovery.”
Nissan North America March U.S. sales totaled 137,726 — the best-ever month for the automaker and an increase of 1 percent over the same period a year earlier.
Volkswagen said it sold 37,704 VWs last month, a 3 percent increase over prior year sales and its best March since 1973.
Sales were “patchy” during the first half of the month but improved as March progressed, said Jonathan Browning, chief executive of Volkswagen’s U.S. operations. “I give credit to the U.S. consumer; they are the most resilient of any in the world.”
Despite a 2 percent dip to sales of 68,306, Hyundai said March was its second-best sales month in more than 25 years of selling cars in the U.S.
“We’re not quite back to pre-recession levels, but the industry is getting closer to a full recovery every month,” said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst at Edmunds.com.
Barclays Capital estimated that total light vehicle U.S. sales would come in at about 15.5 million for the entire year, nearing pre-recession levels of 16.5 million to 17 million.
But Barclays’ analyst Brian Johnson warned investors not to raise their expectations too high.
“We maintain our caution against overly frothy expectations,” Johnson said, although he did call March a “healthy” sales month.