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Strong U.S. Auto Sales Close First Quarter

April 3, 2014

The U.S. auto industry’s slump is over. The first quarter closed with a bang, thanks to stronger sales in March.

Auto sales showed a six percent increase. Last month, 1.5 million light vehicles were sold in the United States. This number increased the Seasonally Adjusted Annualized Selling Rate (SAAR) to 16.4 million, the second highest in 7 years and the highest in 4 months. The March SAAR exceeded the expectations of analysts, who predicted that it will be between 15.6 million to 15.9 million.

March’s remarkable sales performance was a welcome change after the first two months of the year saw weak sales mostly due to severe winter weather. Cold temperature and snow still kept many car buyers out of showrooms in the first half of the month, but consumers eventually resumed buying vehicles as the weather became milder in the second half.

The Mitsubishi and Maserati brands led the pack of gainers. The Japanese brand posted an impressive 70.19 percent growth compared to March of the previous year. While the Maserati brand does not sell as many vehicles as other carmakers, it is difficult to ignore its 341.74 percent improvement in sales, which is driven by the success of its latest models.

Brands Jeep and Fiat also did well, with March being their best-ever sales month. Jeep reported a 46.91 percent volume increase while Fiat posted a 24.45 percent growth. The solid performance of both brands helped the sales of the Chrysler Group to rise 13 percent.

Ford was also a gainer: the company sold 235,198 vehicles in March, a 2.56 percent increase over the previous year.

Nissan also saw its sales performance improve with slightly warmer weather. The Japanese company posted a volume increase of 7.91 percent, with overall monthly sales of 149,136 units.

Meanwhile, BMW dethroned Mercedes-Benz as the luxury car sales leader in the U.S. last month. The BMW brand sold 237 units more than its rival. BMW and Mercedes-Benz both seek to be the best-selling luxury brand in the country. BMW held the title in 2011 and 2012, and aims to get it back from Mercedes-Benz, which is last year’s top luxury seller.

General Motors may be currently embroiled in a massive recall crisis, but March sales give the Detroit-based company something to celebrate. GM’s auto sales totaled 256,047 vehicles, a 4.11 percent growth compared to March 2013 sales.

Its Chevrolet Silverado, named the 2014 North American Truck of the Year, enjoyed a 14 percent gain. Unfortunately, the Silverado’s sales of 42,247 units was not enough to keep the truck in the number 2 spot. For the first time since August 1999, Chrysler’s Ram outsold the Silverado, this time by 285 units.

March also proved to be stellar month for Toyota, as the brand posted a growth of 2.53 percent. It is the Japanese automaker’s best March by volume in 6 years. Toyota sold a total of 186,755 units. Sales of the RAV4 and Tundra helped boost Toyota’s solid performance last month.

Toyota Camry, which has held the best-selling U.S. car crown for 12 years, posted a 17.8 percent increase in sales (of the non-hybrid model). It overtakes rival Nissan Altima in March and Q1 with 94,283 year-to-date sales.

March had 26 selling days, a day less than last year. It also had one weekend more compared to March 2013.

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