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U.S. sales rise 6% as spring momentum builds

Ford, GM, Toyota post first gains of the year; SAAR surges to 16.4 million

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AutomakerMar. 2014Mar. 2013Pct. chng.3 month
3 month
Pct. chng.
BMW Group35,83733,2208%81,25979,1703%
    BMW division32,10727,07819%72,37764,90212%
BMW Group35,83733,2208%81,25979,1703%
Chrysler Group†193,915171,60613%475,964428,35211%
    Chrysler Division26,14033,905–23%72,48379,684–9%
Chrysler Group†193,915171,60613%475,964428,35211%
Chrysler Group†193,915171,60613%475,964428,35211%
Daimler AG30,09127,10711%79,47575,2236%
    Smart USA775929–17%2,2372,1932%
Daimler AG30,09127,10711%79,47575,2236%
Ford Motor Co.243,417235,6433%580,260596,816–3%
    Ford division234,448228,8183%558,657580,917–4%
Ford Motor Co.243,417235,6433%580,260596,816–3%
General Motors256,047245,9504%649,637664,963–2%
General Motors256,047245,9504%649,637664,963–2%
Honda (American)133,318136,038–2%325,354337,651–4%
    Honda Division117,738121,938–3%287,406302,698–5%
Honda (American)133,318136,038–2%325,354337,651–4%
Hyundai Group121,782117,4314%293,019291,2621%
    Hyundai division67,00568,306–2%160,013164,330–3%
Hyundai Group121,782117,4314%293,019291,2621%
Jaguar Land Rover6,2155,7229%17,79416,00411%
    Land Rover4,3994,3142%13,07912,4195%
Jaguar Land Rover6,2155,7229%17,79416,00411%
    Nissan Division136,642126,6238%323,745290,90511%
    Toyota Division180,838175,7203%441,455456,327–3%
    VW division36,71737,704–3%87,32398,178–11%
Volvo Cars NA5,9155,36510%13,69815,107–9%
Volvo Cars NA5,9155,36510%13,69815,107–9%

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: *Estimate
†Fiat S.p.A. purchased the remaining 41.46% stake in Chrysler Group from the UAW's VEBA Trust on Jan. 20, 2014.
**Includes estimates for Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Lotus

March U.S. sales at Jeep climbed 47 percent to 57,983 units -- the best month ever for the brand. Photo credit: REUTERS

UPDATED: 4/1/14 5:52 pm ET

U.S. light-vehicle sales rose 6 percent to 1.54 million units in March, exceeding analysts’ forecasts and signaling the auto industry has shaken off its sluggish start to 2014.

The seasonally adjusted sales rate -- a broad gauge of the industry’s health -- surged to 16.4 million units from 15.3 million units a year ago. It’s the best showing for the SAAR since November 2013 and among the highest in the past seven years.

Overall, U.S. car sales rose 1 percent and light-truck deliveries advanced 11 percent last month.

Among major automakers, Chrysler Group led the advances with a 13 percent rise, followed by Nissan Motor Co.’s 8 percent gain. Ford Motor Co. was up 3 percent, General Motors advanced 4 percent and Toyota Motor Corp. chalked up a 5 percent increase in recording their first increases of the year.

Dealers began tracking more showroom traffic and on their lots in the second half of  the month as temperatures climbed and snow began melting in more populated pockets of the country, automakers said.

“March sales turned noticeably higher mid-month and finished strong,” John Felice, Ford's vice president for U.S. marketing, sales and service, said in a statement. “It was encouraging to all of us -- after a softer January, February; the spring market kind of bloomed in March.”

GM -- ending three consecutive months of sales declines in the United States -- said volume rose 3 percent at Chevrolet, 7 percent at GMC and 13 percent at Buick. Cadillac’s deliveries slid 6 percent.

GM, dogged by several high-profile recalls during the month that have sparked safety investigations, said its retail sales rose 7 percent in March. The company's fleet sales fell 5 percent due to a planned reduction in rental deliveries.

However, GM's commercial fleet sales climbed 5 percent -- the fifth consecutive monthly increase.

Analysts and automakers said the industry’s rebound from January and February, when severe cold and record snowfall in large parts of the country dented showroom traffic, was impressive.

Spring momentum

March sales were also aided by five full weekends during the month.

“Solid March sales pushed first-quarter industry results ahead of last year’s pace despite one of the harshest winters on record,” Bill Fay, Toyota division group vice president and general manager, said in a statement. “Toyota dealers had their two best sales weekends of the year late in the month, and we’re optimistic that momentum will spring us in into April.”

Nissan’s 8 percent advance snapped a five-month run of double-digit sales gains in the U.S. market. Still, the Japanese automaker set a monthly U.S. sales record of 149,136 units, with the Nissan brand jumping 8 percent and Infiniti advancing 13 percent.

The company credited double-digit increases in sales of the Rogue crossover, Juke compact crossover and Sentra compact car, as well as strong demand for the mid-sized Altima sedan.

Ford Motor said its retail volume rose 3 percent to 166,030 units. Demand increased 3 percent at the Ford division and 31 percent at Lincoln. Fusion deliveries hit an all-time record of 32,963, Ford said.

F series tops 70,000

Sales of the F-series pickup increased 5 percent to 70,940.

Strong demand for Jeeps and the Ram pickup helped Chrysler Group extend its streak of U.S. gains to 48 months.

Ram pickup deliveries rose 26 percent last month, and sales at Jeep climbed 47 percent to 57,983 units -- the best month ever for the brand. The introduction of the mid-sized Cherokee and revamped 2014 Grand Cherokee have bolstered Jeep deliveries in recent months.

Overall, Chrysler's truck sales rose 34 percent, but car volume skidded 25 percent.

Deliveries rose 24 percent at the Fiat brand, 1 percent at Dodge, and 29 percent at the Ram brand, while volume dropped 23 percent at the Chrysler brand.

The company's sales have been spurred by new product launches and some of the industry's highest incentives.

Chrysler offered average incentives of $5,598 on the Ram 1500 pickup last month, Bloomberg reported on Monday, citing data that dealers provided to J.D. Power and Associates.

“We are entering the spring selling season on a high note," Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales for Chrysler Group, said in a statement.

Hyundai Motor America blamed weather for a 2 percent drop in its March sales.

Bob Pradzinski, vice president of national sales for Hyundai Motor America, said the company's pace of retail sales accelerated during the second half of March.

He added those gains are forecast "to continue throughout the month of April."

Nissan’s 8 percent advance snapped a five-month run of double-digit sales gains in the U.S. market. Still, the Japanese automaker set a monthly U.S. sales record of 149,136 units.

VW results

Volkswagen brand’s March sales dipped 3 percent to 36,717, though Jetta and Passat volumes rose. It was the 12th straight monthly decline for the marque.

Mark Barnes, vice president of sales for VW of America, said sales of diesel-powered models totaled 9,764 units -- or 27 percent of its U.S. sales in March. The company pumped up diesel deliveries by offering $1,000 fuel cards to buyers.

The VW brand, Barnes said, saw some of its strongest sales last month in the Midwest region, where winter weather crimped demand in recent months.

Audi record streak

Volkswagen Group's Audi luxury unit reported March U.S. sales of 14,246 vehicles, an increase of 8 percent, and the brand’s 39th consecutive month of record monthly sales.

Subaru of America said it sold 44,479 vehicles in March, a 21 percent increase from March 2013.

March was the 28th consecutive month of sales increases, and 15th straight double-digit gain for the brand. Subaru is running out the Outback crossover, its biggest seller, and the Legacy sedan. Both will be replaced this summer.

“We are delighted to have once again delivered record results,” said Tom Doll, Subaru of America president. “2014 looks already set to be our seventh year of consecutive sales growth, with more new product to come”

Overall, U.S. sales had been projected to rise 2 percent from year-earlier levels to 1.48 million light vehicles in March, based on the average of 10 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

Tracking the SAAR

After a 1 percent decline in overall U.S. sales over January and February, automakers ratcheted up the deals last month to draw shoppers.

The average incentive per light vehicle was approximately $2,773 in March, an increase of 7.9 percent from March 2013 and 2.6 percent higher than February, TrueCar estimates.

Larry Dominique, president of ALG and executive vice president of TrueCar, said incentives rose at a rate four-times greater than industry sales in March, forcing a final rush to discount in the last week of the month and setting the stage for equally aggressive deals in April.

"An incentive-fueled battle is on the horizon,” Dominique said.

VW's Barnes said today Volkswagen sees total industry sales for 2014 coming in at between 15.8 million and 16 million units. That’s lower than most forecasts at the start of the year, when sales of at least 16 million were expected.

U.S. light vehicle sales have now edged up 1 percent this year through March.

Through March, GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai-Kia, and VW Group have lost market share, while Chrysler and Nissan have gained share this year.

Richard Truett and Diana T. Kurylko contributed to this report.

You can reach David Phillips at dphillips@crain.com

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