Auto sales set a stronger-than-expected pace last month, prompting some
analysts to raise expectations for total 2012 sales to more than 14 million
Chrysler Group enjoyed its best month in four years, the automaker said Tuesday, saying sales rose 34 percent as buyers noticed small Fiats in an era of rising gas prices. Chrysler said Fiat sales hit 3,712, compared to 500 last March.
The Bob Ross Auto family of Centerville dealershipsopened Bob Ross Fiat in December. Butch Snyder, general manager of the Ross stores, said the company had to remind consumers of the Fiat brand, which left the U.S. in the early 1980s.
Slowly, Snyder said, that recognition is growing. The new dealership sold six or seven Fiats in January, 12 in February and 14 in March.
"I think fuel prices are driving some of that," Snyder said. "And the affordability of the vehicle."
Starting at $16,000, shoppers are looking at Fiats with electric power steering, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry and more, Snyder said.
To this point, Chrysler sales benefitted by comparison to low sales in previous years, said Kristen Andersson, senior analyst for industry watcher TrueCar.com. That's starting to change.
"We're reaching a point now where really the (Chrysler) product is speaking for itself," Andersson said.
Fiat is also helping the Ross dealerships hit a new price point for them, Snyder said. Ross dealerships offer Buick, GMC and Mercedes-Benz models.
Among other automakers, General Motors Co. said its U.S. sales rose 12 percent compared with last March on demand for fuel-efficient models. Toyota Motor Corp. said sales were up 15 percent, with sales of the Prius hybrid climbing 54 percent for the month. Sales at Ford Motor Co. rose 5 percent as demand for the Focus small car rose sharply.
Volkswagen AG said its sales rose 35 percent, the company's best March sales since 1973. But American Honda Motor Co. Inc., which makes cars and components in Ohio and has more than 13,000 workers in the state, said March new-vehicle sales dropped 8.4 percent from March 2011. Andersson believes Honda's Civic in particular is not attracting buyers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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