Chrysler’s U.S. sales increased 34% in March, followed by a 12% gain from General Motors and a 5% lift from Ford, as overall industry sales were expected to stay near the four-year high seen in February. U.S. automakers report March sales throughout the day today. Analysts projected overall sales would finish at an annual pace of 14.5 million, according to an average compiled by Bloomberg News, compared with 15.1 million in February.
Chrysler’s namesake brand led its sales performance, up 70% from March 2011, helped by a 169% gain in sales of the Chrysler 300 sedan. Jeep posted a 36% increase, and Ram pickup sales grew 23%.
Ford had its best March sales total since 2007, with a 5.1% increase from its namesake brand and a 3.6% gain from its Lincoln luxury brand, which is attempting a comeback behind its redesigned MKZ sedan, unveiled Monday at the New York auto show. F-Series truck sales, considered an economic indicator, grew 9%, while the compact Ford Focus increased 64.7% after slower-than-expected sales last year.
Chevrolet led all GM brands, with a 16.8% increase, including a 12.1% gain for Silverado pickups. Sales of Volt extended-range electrics hit 2,289, for a 50% increase from the car’s best monthly sales total, a substantial rebound following the hit the Volt took during a recent government investigation. GMC sales grew 12.2%, but Buick’s fell 16.3% and Cadillac’s slid 13.4%.
Auto sales are building on their best sales month since 2008. That year, rising gasoline prices and a slipping economy sent the U.S. auto industry sliding toward its worst auto sales in a quarter century. So far this year, consumers are returning to the market, even though the average gallon of regular unleaded gas now costs $3.92, up from $3.76 a month ago.
“Sixty-three percent of consumers, when surveyed, say they are worried about high gas prices,” IHS Chief Economist Nariman Behravesh said today in New York City ahead of the auto show. “Reality: They haven’t changed their behavior.”
Using the Bloomberg estimate, U.S. auto sales will have averaged a rate of 14.6 million. At that pace, U.S. auto sales would finish 2012 with their highest total since 2007.
Detroit Free Press