U.S. light-vehicle sales rose 3.1 percent in March, but the pace of deliveries slowed considerably as retail growth slackened during the month, even with a spike in discounts. Some automakers and analysts blamed an early Easter holiday for putting a dent in late-March showroom traffic and retail sales.
The seasonally adjusted sales rate slipped to 16.56 million -- well below forecasts of 17.3 million -- from 17.14 million in March 2015. The February SAAR came in at 17.53 million.
The pace of sales last month is the lowest since the SAAR came in at 16.39 million in February 2015. The SAAR topped the 17 million mark for 10 straight months until March.
'While it will take a week to get the final details around pricing and fleet, the quality of the [March] SAAR ... is incrementally weaker," Barclays analyst Brian Johnson said in a note to investors on Friday. "Incentives are higher, capacity is coming on line, fleet sales are up, and residuals are coming down."
Nissan, Honda, Fiat Chrysler and Ford Motor chalked up solid U.S. sales gains as higher spending on incentives and strong demand for light trucks lifted the industry to another monthly advance.
Nissan North America led the way with a 13 percent jump in March deliveries. Volume rose 9.4 percent at American Honda Motor, with sales up 11 percent at Honda Division and 1.2 percent at Acura.
FCA US and Ford Motor Co. each came in with advances in the 8 percent range. General Motors deliveries rose 0.9 percent while again touting a rise in retail sales and a drop in less-profitable fleet deliveries. Volume dropped for the second month this year at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.
Volume at Nissan Division advanced 13 percent to a record 149,784 cars and light trucks. Deliveries rose 10 percent at Infiniti.
Sales of Nissan-branded crossovers, pickups and SUVs set a monthly record, with volume rising 9 percent, the company said today. Nissan Division’s car lineup also set a record, with deliveries of 88,278, an increase of 16 percent.
Overall, the Nissan group’s car volume rose 13 percent in March while truck sales jumped 12 percent. Nissan’s U.S. incentives averaged $3,362 a vehicle last month, an increase of 5.6 percent over March 2015, TrueCar estimated.
At Ford Motor Co., sales increased 7.8 percent, with volume rising 7.6 percent at the Ford division and 11 percent at Lincoln. Across the Ford and Lincoln lineups, truck volume rose 11 percent, utility vehicle sales jumped 14 percent and car deliveries skidded 1.6 percent last month.
"Customers continue buying high-end SUVs and trucks, helping the Ford brand increase its average transaction prices by more than $1,600 per vehicle in March -- nearly double the industry average,” Mark LaNeve, Ford's vice president for U.S. marketing, sales and service, said in a statement. “We have been seeing solid sales momentum in the first quarter across our entire portfolio."
FCA US, led by another strong month for Jeep and higher discounts, posted an 8.1 percent rise in March U.S. sales, marking the 72nd consecutive month that the company’s U.S. deliveries have advanced year over year.