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Automakers Post Strong March U.S. Sales

Automakers Post Strong March U.S. Sales
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Automakers on Tuesday reported higher U.S. vehicle sales for the month of March, helped by continued strong demand for smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles and an improving economy. Rising gas prices have accelerated consumer demand for more fuel efficient vehicles. At the same time, improved consumer confidence in the wake of a stabilizing job market brought more customers to automobile showrooms across the country.

Chrysler Group LLC continued its strong momentum with a 34% growth, while General Motors Co. (GM: Quote) recorded a 12% growth. Ford Motor Co. (F: Quote) reported a modest 5% increase, while Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp. (TM: Quote) reported a 15% surge in U.S. vehicle sales.

Strong March U.S. auto sales have forced some forecasting firms to raise their estimates for 2012 sales.

Mike Jackson, chief executive officer of AutoNation Inc. (AN), the nation's largest automotive retailer, told CNBC on Monday that his company had raised its 2012 sales forecast to about 14.5 million vehicles from 14 million.

GM, the largest U.S. automaker, said Tuesday that its total vehicle sales in the United States rose 11.8% to 231,052 units in March from 206,621 units in the same month last year.

Total GM passenger car sales increased 22%, with small and compact car sales up a combined 62%. Compact crossover sales were up 47% and mid-size car sales were up 38%. Full-size pickup sales rose 14% from a year earlier.

For March, total Chevrolet brand sales rose 16.8% to 173,073 units, while total GMC sales grew 12.2% to 34,337 units. Total Cadillac sales for the month fell 13.4% to 10,537 units, while total Buick sales slipped 16.3% to 13,105 units.

There were 28 selling days in March 2012, compared to 27 selling days last year.

Ford, the second largest U.S. automaker, said that its March U.S. sale rose 5% from last year, as rising gas prices continued to drive strong consumer demand for its fuel-efficient vehicles.

The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker said it sold 223,418 vehicles in the U.S. in March, up from 212,777 vehicles sold in the same month last year. For February, Ford had reported a 14.4% increase in U.S. vehicles sales.

Ford said this marks its strongest U.S. March sales in five years.

Ford's car sales rose 5.6% year-over-year to 84,772 units in March, while truck sales also increased 5.6% to 78,280 units. Utility vehicle sales grew 3.3% to 60,366 units.

Sales of Ford brand vehicles increased 5.1% to 214,615 units, while sales of Lincoln brand vehicles grew 3.6% to 8,803 units.

March sales of Ford's small car Focus jumped 64.7% to 28,562 vehicles, its best March ever, while sales of another fuel-efficient small car Fusion grew 3.6% to 28,562 units, an all-time monthly sales record.

Sales of Ford's F-Series truck, America's best-selling truck for 35 years in a row and America's best-selling vehicle, car or truck, for 30 straight years, rose 9% to 58.061 units in March.

Ford was less ravaged by the recession than most of its peers. The company also did not have to restructure with federal assistance. The automaker has reported a profit for each of its last eleven quarters. The company has also reinstated its quarterly stock dividend.

Chrysler, which is majority owned by Italy-based Fiat SpA (FIATY.PK), said its U.S. sales for the month of March rose 34% to 163,381 vehicles from 121,730 vehicles in the same month last year. This marks the company's best monthly sales since March 2008. The company has now reported 24 straight months of year-over-year sales gains.

The Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram Truck, and FIAT brands each posted higher year-over-year sales in March, with the FIAT brand leading the charge with a 642% growth.

Chrysler's total car sales for the month jumped 53% year-over-year to 51,514 units, while total truck sales rose 27% to 111,867 units.

Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., a division of Toyota Motor Corp., reported that its U.S. vehicle sales for March increased 15.4% to 203,282 units from 176,222 units in the prior year month.

Toyota division sales were 183,142 units in March, up 17.7% from 155,540 units a year ago, while Lexus division sales fell 2.6% to 20,140 units from 20,682 units last year.

Among other automakers reporting U.S. vehicle sales Tuesday, Nissan North America Inc., a unit of Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. (NSANY.PK), reported March U.S. sales of 136,317 units, up 12.5% from 121,141 units a year earlier. Total car sales grew 9.0% to 91,472 units, while total truck sales rose 20.5% to 44,845 units.

GM shares are currently trading at $25.34, down $1.42 or 5.31%, while Ford shares are currently trading at $12.52, down 10 cents.

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by RTT Staff Writer

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