Fleet was the straw that stirred the drink for March U.S. auto sales.
Retail sales typically are four times greater than fleet, so sales to commercial, government and daily rental buyers rarely reverse the overall market's momentum. But it happened in March because retail sales changed modestly from the year-earlier period while fleet changed a lot.
Fleet volume kept overall sales positive. The market gained a half percent in March, up about 8,000 vehicles in a 1.5 million month. But fleet activity alone among the seven largest automakers added 18,000 vehicles or 6.9 percent, while their retail sales fell 1.7 percent.
Toyota and Hyundai-Kia were among March's few sales winners only because fleet volume for both companies jumped 68 percent and offset retail declines. Conversely, big fleet declines pulled Ford and Nissan sales into negative territory despite retail gains.
A 5.5 percent fleet increase at General Motors couldn't completely counter a 5 percent reduction in retail sales but trimmed the net sales decline to 2.4 percent.
Fiat Chrysler US was the only big automaker to post March gains for retail and fleet. Stronger fleet sales for FCA US effectively doubled growth to 1.7 percent.
Sales at American Honda, which does not have centralized fleet operations, dropped 5.3 percent in March. Its fleet volume is considered a flat 2 percent of volume.
Through the first three months of this year, retail volume was up 4.1 percent to 2.7 million among major players. Fleet sales were up 10 percent to 695,100 vehicles.