Ford said its U.S. sales increased 5.7% in March, or just under the robust expectations for the overall industry, as sales of the Ford Fusion midsize sedan topped 30,000 units and pickup sales surged.
"Full-size pickup demand continues gaining momentum, outperforming the industry for the third consecutive month," Ken Czubay, Ford's U.S. sales and marketing chief said in a statement.
Automotive industry sales for March are widely expected to show more evidence that consumer confidence remains strong despite wrangling in Washington over the national debt and the budget.
Analysts are predicting that U.S. industry sales increased by about 8% in March compared with the same month a year ago. That would translate into an annualized rate of more than 15.3 million cars, or about 6% more than the 14.5 million new cars and trucks sold in the U.S. last year.
Chrysler sales of its cars and trucks increased 5% in March as the automaker kept its streak of 36 consecutive year-over-year monthly sales increases alive.
In March, the Auburn Hills automaker faced a shortage of inventory on some models, especially for the Jeep brand. Still, Chrysler sold 171,606 new cars and trucks in the U.S. last month, the most of any month since December 2007.
"Chrysler Group has now achieved year-over-year sales gains in every month for the past three years," Reid Bigland, Chrysler's head of U.S. Sales said in a statement. "In spite of limited inventory last month on some of our most popular models, we also managed to record our strongest monthly sales since December 2007."
Chrysler's performance was led by its Ram and Dodge brands with sales increasing 24% and 15% respectively. Sales of the company's Fiat brand rose 3% while Chrysler's sales fell 2% and Jeep sales fell 13%.
The company sold more than 8,000 Dodge Darts in March, the most of any month since the compact car was launched last summer.
Volkswagen said its sales increased 3.1% and marked the German automaker's 31st month in a row of year-over-year sales increases.
Edmunds.com expects March to be the biggest single month since 1,555,945 new cars and trucks were sold in May 2007. It is also the fifth consecutive month that the pace of car and truck sales in the U.S. will exceed 15 million.
"Car shoppers seem unfazed by fiscal issues in the news," Lacey Plache, chief economist for Edmunds.com said in a report. "Even though consumer confidence has been up and down so far this year, there are 'wealth effects' that are making Americans feel comfortable finally buying the new cars they've been waiting for."
Plache said that many people are feeling wealthier thanks to rising home prices and the strong stock market. Also, the improving labor market has put additional cash in some buyers' pockets. And credit has been loosening more and more since the recovery began, which is key to car sales.
LMC Automotive said the industry's strong sales pace for the first three months of the year should set the tone for the full year.
"Building on the current performance, we expect the economic environment to improve throughout 2013, as the likelihood of a dark cloud slowing the recovery pace diminishes," Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive said in a recent report. "Consumers do not appear phased by headwinds from Washington, as growth in auto sales are outperforming earlier expectations."
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