Ford and Chrysler Lead U.S. Manufacturers as Auto Sales Gain in March

Michael Teague  |

As the car companies report their sales throughout Tuesday, the figures that have already been released are being widely interpreted as yet another sign that the economy is one step further away from the Great Recession.

The big three American manufacturers all saw significant increases from March of 2012, led by an uptick in sales of trucks and SUVs, with Ford (F) and Chrysler Group LLC (FIATY) leading the fleet, both reporting their best months since 2007.

Ford’s sales were up 5.7 percent for the month of March, beating estimates of 4.4 percent. Meanwhile, Chrysler’s sales were up 5 percent, beating estimates of 3 percent.

General Motors (GM) reported a sales increase of 6.4 percent, its best monthly result in five years, even though it came in short of the 12 percent increase that had been estimated.

German manufacturer Volkswagen AG clocked a 3.1 percent increase in sales in the U.S., while Toyota (TM) was up 1 percent, shy of estimates of 1.6 percent. Nissan outpaced estimates of a 2.1 percent decline in sales with a 1 percent increase.

In total, analysts believe that around 1.5 million new vehicles were sold in the month of March alone, an increase of up to as much as 5 percent, a number not seen in nearly six years, since May 2007.

A number of factors played into the surge in last month’s auto purchases, perhaps foremost among them being low interest rates for new car loans.

However, Kelley Blue Book analyst Alec Gutierrez cites March’s five-year low unemployment benefit claims figure as another factor in better-than-expected sales numbers, as an indicator of a healthier job market that is bolstering consumer confidence. With the average vehicle in the U.S. being almost 11 years old, many will be looking to replace their old and overworked vehicles.

Finally, auto sales may have benefitted during the month of March from some of the delays in tax refunds as well as the spike in gas prices that plagued the months of January and February.

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