Auto sales surge in March, led by small cars
The auto industry looks set to ride the appeal of smaller cars to its best monthly performance in almost four years.
General Motors Company said Tuesday that its US sales rose 12 per cent in March on solid demand for cars and small crossovers that achieve 30 miles per gallon or better on the highway.
Chrysler Group's sales jumped 34 per cent as buyers went for Fiat small cars and Chrysler sedans. Sales at Ford Motor Company rose five per cent as sales of the Focus small car rose sharply compared with a year ago.
Americans who couldn't bear a new car payment during the economic downturn are back on the market. With gas above US$4 in some parts of the US, buyers are leaning toward new fuel-efficient compacts like the Chevrolet Cruze and sub-compacts such as the Honda Fit to save money. Also, incentives on trucks are good enough to lure buyers who want something bigger.
The consulting firm LMC Automotive predicts US sales of new cars and trucks reached 1.37 million last month, up six per cent from March of 2011 and the highest number since May of 2008. Industry analysts say sales could run at an annual rate of 14.1 million to 14.5 million vehicles, continuing the strong performance in January and February.
For Chrysler, it was the best month for the company in four years, while Ford had its best March performance since 2007. Nissan reported all-time record sales. Toyota and Honda release figures later.
Fiat popularity growing
Chrysler says Fiat sales hit 3,712, compared to just 500 last March when the car was first on the market. The subcompact Fiat is growing in popularity as new dealerships open and fuel prices rise.
Compact and subcompact models combined are expected to account for 23 per cent of retail sales for March, according to LMC.
Sales of Chrysler's 200 and 300 sedans each doubled over last March. Both cars have recently been revamped and have better fuel economy than previous models, which is attracting new buyers. Jeep brand sales rose 36 per cent on the strength of the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Ford says sales of the F-Series pickup, which is the best-selling vehicle in the US, rose nine per cent. Truck sales are up as small businesses and construction crews continue to grow more confident about the economic recovery.
Incentives also helped boost truck sales. Chrysler said its Ram pickup sales were up 23 per cent over last March.
March also saw more growth in loans to subprime buyers. Jefferies analyst Peter Nesvold wrote in a note to investors that non-prime buyers, or those with less than stellar credit, are coming back into the market after being shut out for several years due to lack of loan availability.
AutoNation, the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, auto retailer, said Tuesday that its sale rose 15 per cent in March, mostly on the strength of Detroit brands, which were up 26 per cent.
Other automakers reporting Tuesday included Nissan Motor Company, which said sales were up 12.5 per cent to 136,317, making it the best month in Nissan's history.
Sales were boosted by higher than usual incentives, which TrueCar.com estimated at US$3,115 per vehicle. Nissan is trying to sell off its remaining Altima sedans before a new Altima goes on sale in July. Industry incentives averaged US$2,440 per vehicle.
Volkswagen AG said its sales rose 35 per cent to 36,588, the company's best March sales since 1973. Volkswagen saw big gains with the new Passat sedan and the new Beetle.