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|Automaker||March 2011||March 2010||Pct. chng.||3 month|
|Chrysler Group LLC||121,730||92,623||31%||286,950||234,215||23%|
|Ford Motor Co.***||212,295||183,425||16%||495,508||441,708||12%|
|Jaguar Land Rover||4,315||3,709||16%||10,768||9,091||18%|
|Saab Cars North America‡||830||133||524%||2,069||133||1456%|
|Volvo Cars North America‡‡‡‡||6,369||–||–%||15,440||–||–%|
Numbers in this table are calculated by Automotive News based on actual monthly sales reported by the manufacturers and may differ from numbers reported elsewhere.
Source: Automotive News Data Center
Note: Other includes estimates for Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Lotus
*Includes Mini and Rolls-Royce
**Includes Maybach, Mercedes-Benz and Smart
***Includes Volvo through July 2010
****Includes Saab through February 2010
‡The sale of Saab was final on February 23, 2010
‡‡Includes Lexus and Scion
‡‡‡Includes Audi and Bentley
‡‡‡‡The sale of Volvo to Zhejiang Geely Holding Group was final on Aug. 2, 2010
U.S. sales rise 17% as demand holds up against headwinds
Ford tops GM; Toyota only major maker to slip
Photo credit: BLOOMBERG
DETROIT -- U.S. auto sales rose 17 percent last month and again topped an annual selling rate of 13 million as consumers fended off concern over rising gasoline prices and the effects of Japan's earthquake.
Kia, Chrysler and Hyundai posted some of the biggest gains as the industry marked its seventh straight monthly advance of 10 percent or more. The seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of 13.1 million was the second highest since the cash-for-clunkers incentives of 2009.
"We believe the industry and economy are moving in the right direction," said Bob Carter, general manager of the Toyota division.
The March results topped most analysts' forecasts, while some said the parts shortages and plant closings caused by the March 11 quake would begin to take a toll on sales this month.
Ford Motor Co. outsold rival General Motors in the United States last month for the second time since 1998. Ford was aided by a 21 percent jump in truck sales. Its overall gain of 16 percent was its biggest this year.
Ford last outsold GM in February 2010 and before that, July 1998, when GM was hobbled by a strike at former parts unit Delphi.
Chrysler Group said its March sales rose 31 percent to the highest level in three years, with Dodge brand sales jumping 50 percent.
Among major automakers, only Toyota Motor Corp. lost ground last month. Its sales fell 6 percent in comparison to March 2010, when it recorded a 41 percent increase while fighting back from its recall crisis.
Nissan Motor Corp. posted a 27 percent increase in monthly sales before announcing its U.S. plants will close for six days this month because of parts shortages.
American Honda sales rose 24 percent on a 25 percent jump in Honda brand volume. Kia said March sales rose 45 percent, helping it sell more than 100,000 units in a quarter for the first time.
Industry sales are now up 20 percent this year.
March's seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of 13.1 million marked the sixth consecutive month the SAAR has topped 12 million vehicles. The figure is up from a SAAR of 11.78 million a year earlier but down from February's 13.4 million.
Ford's March results were driven by higher fleet sales, strong F-Series demand and record monthly sales of the Fusion and Escape. Fiesta sales reached 9,787, up 56 percent over February, the automaker said.
The Ford division posted a 28 percent jump in sales, offsetting a 2 percent decline in volume at Lincoln. Ford's F-Series truck lineup - featuring more fuel efficient powertrains for 2011 - posted sales of 53,272, up 25 percent compared to a year ago.
"The No. 1 unmet need for full-size pickup truck owners has been fuel economy," Doug Scott, marketing manager for Ford's truck line, said in a statement.
Ford said its retail sales - a key measure of consumer demand - rose 14 percent. Fleet sales were up 29 percent, with commercial sales up 50 percent, government demand up 33 percent and daily rental volume up 13 percent.
GM, which outperformed the overall U.S. market in January and February, is still ahead of Ford in year-to-date sales by more than 97,000 units. It has been the U.S. sales leader on an annual basis since 1931.
New models such as the Chevrolet Cruze and healthy demand for fuel efficient cars and crossovers helped GM post a 10 percent gain in March sales.
The automaker said car sales rose 15 percent, while crossover demand jumped 30 percent and big pickup sales jumped 11 percent.
It was the 7th consecutive monthly sales gain for GM, but the advanced trailed increases posted in January and February as the automaker reduced discounts.
GM's average incentive dropped 17 percent to $3,109 per vehicle last month from February levels, online shopping guide TrueCar estimated.
GM said retail sales advanced 17 percent compared with March 2010.
Combined retail sales of models launched since June 2009 – including the Chevrolet Equinox, Cruze and Volt; Buick Regal; GMC Terrain; and Cadillac SRX – advanced 54 percent last month and rose 74 percent during the first quarter, GM said.
Fleet sales represented 24 percent of GM's sales volume during the first quarter, compared with 30 percent in the first quarter of 2010.
"Our plan was to get out of the gates quickly in the first quarter and we succeeded," Don Johnson, head of GM's U.S. sales operations, said in a statement.
Rising gasoline prices and manufacturing disruptions caused by the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis could slow the industry's ongoing sales recovery during the spring selling season, analysts say.
And while credit markets continue to thaw, making it easier for consumers to finance new vehicle purchases, new vehicle demand is still being hampered by high unemployment and a weak housing market.
The Labor Department reported today that employers added 216,000 jobs in March, slightly above forecasts and a fresh sign hiring is gaining momentum.
TrueCar.com estimates the industry's average incentive per vehicle dropped 6 percent from February to $2,432 last month. In March 2010, industry discounts averaged $2,798 per vehicle.
Last year, light-vehicle sales climbed to 11.6 million units from a 27- year low in 2009. But sales volumes remain about 31 percent below the 16.8 million-unit annual average from 2000 to 2007, according to Autodata Corp.
Watching gas prices
The rise in oil and gasoline prices is drawing buyers away from light trucks and into smaller cars, analysts said.
In a recent report, J. P. Morgan analyst Himanshu Patel said that each $1 increase in the U.S. retail price of gas results in a 5 percentage-point shift toward lower-margin cars for automakers.
U.S. gas prices rose more than 3 cents to $3.60 a gallon over the last week, and have climbed by 80 cents from a year ago, the Energy Department said this week.
"With gasoline prices eclipsing $3.50 a gallon, consumers are placing a high priority on fuel efficiency in every size and kind of vehicle," said Ken Czubay, head of U.S. marketing and sales at Ford.
Political turmoil in the Middle East has sent the cost of crude oil to above $100 a barrel.
"When there is unrest, consumers tend to take a wait and see approach to purchasing big ticket items," Jesse Toprak, an analyst with TrueCar.com, said last week.
The aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami last month is also expected to dampen supplies and sales of select models in coming weeks.
"For the most part our product inventory levels are very good at 352,000 vehicles," said Toyota's Carter. "While there may be spot shortages here or there, we are prioritizing distribution efforts to minimize those shortages."
Toyota said today is was scrapping all incentives on the Prius hybrid for April. Because of disruptions in Japan and rising demand, Toyota is down to an 18-day supply of the Prius, but the automaker said it does not expect to run out.
"The uncertainty surrounding future production and vehicle availability may limit dealers' willingness to provide additional discounts on top of OEM incentives," analyst Richard M. Kwas of Wells Fargo said in a report this week.
As a result, Kwas expects the April SAAR to fall sequentially from March because of inventory shortages caused by the Japanese earthquake.
"Underlying retail demand continues to strengthen and automakers will attempt to make up for lost production later in the year," he added.
GM, Toyota, Honda and Nissan are among automakers that have idled plants and cut output because of parts shortages in Japan. The unplanned reduction in car and light truck output and supply is expected to prompt Japanese automakers to reduce fleet sales and redirect inventory to retail sales.
"We know there will be challenges in the coming months as we continue to deal with supply chain issues resulting from the earthquake in Japan," John Mendel, head of sales for American Honda, said today in a statement.
Reuters and Bloomberg contributed to this report
You can reach David Phillips at email@example.com.