Sales rose 5.7 percent in March to an annualized selling rate of
16.4 million vehicles, well beyond the expectations of 40 analysts
polled by Thomson Reuters. They on average expected a 2 percent
increase for an annualized selling rate of 15.8 million vehicles.
Cold weather and snow kept many consumers away from dealer
show-rooms in early March. But the second half of the month showed
promise that April will be a strong sales month, said sales
executives from Ford and Toyota.
Ford Vice President of U.S. Sales John Felice said the sales
momentum in late March shows "the trend positive heading into
Bill Fay, general manager for Toyota brand U.S. sales, said,
"We're optimistic that momentum will spring us in into April."
General Motors Co <GM.N> U.S. sales rose 4 percent, Ford Motor Co <F.N>
reported a 3 percent rise in U.S. sales, Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T>
a 5 percent rise and Chrysler Group, a unit of Fiat Chrysler
Automobiles <FIA.MI>, a 13 percent increase from a year ago.
All beat expectations by industry research firm Edmunds.com.
No. 5 in the U.S. market for March, Nissan Motor Co <7201.T>, also
came in ahead of estimates, selling 149,136 vehicles in the month,
up 8 percent.
GM's 4 percent sales gain beat estimates of a 0.5 percent rise. But
most of the attention on GM on Tuesday was focused on Chief
Executive Mary Barra's appearance at a congressional hearing on the
company's slow response to defective ignition switches, blamed for
at least 13 deaths.
Alec Gutierrez, analyst with industry research firm Kelley Blue
Book, said it was too early to tell if GM's recall crisis has hurt
its sales, but said that it is possible that buyers may stray to
other automakers soon.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see some conquest activity maybe in
April or May," said Gutierrez.
GM shares closed down 0.2 percent at $34.34, after trading higher
earlier in the day. Ford shares added 4.6 percent to $16.32. The
wider S&P 500 index was up 0.7 percent.
BOOST FROM INCENTIVES
Auto sales are an early indicator of U.S. consumer demand for
big-ticket items that comes right at the start of a new month,
before government reports on retail sales and durable goods. The
economy sagged in the first two months of year, as did auto sales,
amid massive snowstorms over much of the United States. But there
were signs of a pickup since then.
The boost in sales may be linked to higher incentives by automakers
in March, said Larry Dominique, executive vice president at industry
researcher TrueCar. He said incentives rose 8 percent to an average
$2,800 per new vehicle sale.
Automakers and dealers offer incentives, ranging from discounts to
low interest rates, to entice consumers to buy.
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Honda Motor Co <7267.T> showed a decline in U.S. March sales of 2
percent, to 133,318 vehicles. Although Honda's sales fell, many
analysts had forecast a deeper drop, including Edmunds, which saw a
10 percent decrease.
GM's full-size pickups Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra saw sales
of 53,378, up 11 percent. Its Buick brand sales rose 13 percent and
its Cadillac brand fell 6 percent.
Ford said its F-Series pickup truck sales rose 5 percent to about
71,000 in March and its Fusion sedan sales rose 9 percent to nearly
33,000. Ford's luxury brand, Lincoln, increased sales 31 percent,
led by a 72 percent sales jump for its best-selling vehicle, the MKZ
Toyota's top-selling sedan, the Camry, increased sales 11 percent to
41,953 in the month, and Toyota's eight crossovers and SUVs
increased sales 19 percent. Sales of Toyota's smaller cars fell,
including a drop of 16 percent for its hybrid Prius, 5.5 percent for
Corolla and 24 percent for the Yaris subcompact.
Chrysler relied on hefty sales of its Ram trucks and Jeep Cherokee
SUV, which both showed 26 percent sales jumps from a year ago.
Hyundai Motor Co <005380.KS> U.S. sales fell 2 percent in March to
67,005 vehicles. Its sister company Kia Motors Corp <000270.KS>
increased U.S. sales 11.5 percent to 54,777 vehicles.
BMW <BMWG.DE> said its March sales rose 8 percent to 35,762
vehicles, despite a drop of 40 percent for its MINI brand. The BMW
brand had a 19 percent sales rise to 32,107 vehicles.
Subaru, a division of Fuji Heavy Industries <7270.T>, said its March
sales rose 21 percent to 36,701, led by a 53 percent rise for its
best-selling vehicle in the U.S. market, the Forester crossover
Volkswagen AG's <VOWG_p.DE> U.S. auto sales fell 3 percent to 36,717
vehicles in March. Sales of its best-selling cars, the Jetta and the
Passat, rose 5 percent and 16 percent, respectively.
Mazda Motor Corp <7261.T> March sales rose 9 percent to 34,903
vehicles, the company's best March U.S. sales since 2007.
Mitsubishi Motors Corp <7211.T> had its best sales month since
August 2008 as U.S. sales rose 70 percent to 8,996 vehicles.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Nick
Zieminski and Dan Grebler)
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