March is on pace to be one of the strongest months ever for the U.S. auto industry, with sales expected to rise at least 7 percent from a year ago, according to three forecasts released this week.
The forecasts from TrueCar, Edmunds.com and Kelley Blue Book call for industry volume of about 1.66 million, which would be the highest for any March since 2000 and the sixth highest of any month since at least 1989, according to the Automotive News Data Center.
“March auto sales show another month of positive year-over-year growth, rounding out a consistently strong first quarter for the industry,” Jessica Caldwell, director of industry analysis for Edmunds, said in a statement. “The sales we saw in these three months sets us up for another potentially record-breaking year, especially as we begin to approach the popular summer selling season.”
Because the month has two more selling days than March 2015, the industry’s seasonally adjusted, annualized selling rate is likely to be lower than February’s rate of 17.53 million. The SAAR projections for March range from 17.2 million to 17.3 million, compared with 17.12 million a year ago.
March would be the 11th consecutive month with a SAAR of more than 17 million.
If the forecasts are accurate, first-quarter deliveries will total more than 4.15 million cars and light trucks, the best start to a year since 2000.
“Sales in the first quarter of this year continue to expand and the overall retail mix suggests consumers are still feeling confident,” Eric Lyman, TrueCar’s vice president of industry insights, said in a statement. “Organic demand is always a favorable sign for automakers as it lessens their reliance on fleet sales, while sustaining healthy year-over-year growth.”
At the same time, incentive spending is up 10 percent from a year ago to an average of $3,005 per vehicle, TrueCar projected. It said incentives are 0.9 percent lower than in February.
Incentives are up double digits at Volkswagen Group of America, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. and all three Detroit automakers, including a 29 percent jump for General Motors, TrueCar said. It said American Honda, Hyundai and Subaru have cut incentive spending this month.
In spite of the higher discounts, the forecasts all show market share declining for GM, Toyota and Volkswagen. Honda, Nissan, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles all are expected to gain ground this month.
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