NEW YORK - March light-vehicle sales increased almost 17 percent for companies that reported sales by late last week.
'It's hard to find something to be pessimistic about,' said Rick Wagoner, General Motors president. GM will report its March sales Wednesday, April 7. Ford Motor Co. will report Tuesday, April 6.
Companies representing about 40 percent of the light-vehicle market reported sales by 1 p.m. Friday, April 2. Their monthly total was 663,861, 16.6 percent ahead of the same group a year earlier. Through February, the U.S. industry was up 10.1 percent.
'The American appetite for new cars and trucks is roaring,' Jim Holden, DaimlerChrysler executive vice president of sales, said in a written report. Among the highlights:
DaimlerChrysler, Volvo, Lexus, Honda and Infiniti reported record March sales. Kia had its best month ever.
DaimlerChrysler, Land Rover, Honda, Toyota and Lexus had record first-quarter sales.
The Volkswagen brand had its best March since 1981; Audi had its best first quarter since 1986. Subaru had its best March since 1988. Mitsubishi sales jumped 69.1 percent.
Mazda North American Operations was an exception to the positive reports. Its sales fell 18.5 percent compared with a strong year-ago month.
'It looks like the industry is in good shape for the next several quarters,' Wagoner said in a speech to the International Motor Press Association at the New York auto show last week.
'We should end up with a year that's pretty strong by any measure,' he said.
In a separate press conference at the New York show, President Hans-Olov Olsson of Volvo Cars of North America Inc. said last week that Volvo will 'easily' hit its target of 120,000 units in North America this year. North American sales last year topped 110,000.
'We intend to sell 200,000 soon in North America. I think that will please Mr. Nasser very much,' Olsson said. Jac Nasser is CEO of Ford Motor Co., the new parent company of Volvo Cars.
In the booming U.S. market, forecasters have been ratcheting up their 1999 sales predictions, in some cases close to the record 16 million light vehicles sold in 1986.