Driven by a strong recovery in the housing market and big gains in pickups, AutoNation Inc., the country's largest dealership group, reported a 7 percent gain in new-vehicle sales in March.
For the month, AutoNation's sales totaled 27,199 units, up from 25,489 a year ago. That increase was helped by sales from the six Texas dealerships AutoNation acquired in December. On a same-store basis, AutoNation's sales rose 4 percent, just ahead of the industry sales pace. Total U.S. new-vehicle sales rose 3 percent in March.
"We had another excellent month for March," AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson said today on CNBC. He highlighted "good recovery in our housing states of Florida and California."
The retailer's sales rose 11 percent in California and 8 percent in Florida. Pickup sales rose 9 percent, AutoNation's biggest increase in any vehicle segment, Jackson said.
Total sales at AutoNation's luxury-brand dealerships rose 15 percent, led by a 28 percent increase at BMW stores. At the retailer's domestic-brand dealerships, total sales rose 6 percent. Total sales at import-brand stores rose 4 percent.
Jackson said the industry had a seasonally adjusted annual selling rate of more than 15 million vehicles for the fifth straight month. AutoNation projects U.S. new-vehicle sales in the mid-15 million range for 2013. The industry rate will continue to improve, Jackson said, as consumers work through pent-up demand left over from the auto sales "depression" in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
"There's pent-up demand that's going to continue for years," Jackson said. "We're on a journey back to something over 16 million units as a sustainable rate for some time."