Auto sales rise in March; Chrysler, Ford, and GM report gains

Auto sales improved in March as warmer temperatures coaxed customers back to the sales lots. Among US automakers, Chrysler and Ford made strong gains, and though a computer glitch delayed its report, General Motors reported sales increases as well.

Patrick Semansky/FILE/AP
In this March 27, 2014 picture, a Mercedes-Benz vehicle sits inside a car-carrier before being hauled away for distribution from the company's Vehicle Processing Center in Baltimore. After sales slumped in January and February because of the brutal weather, automakers hope a rebound in March get them back on track to sell more than 16 million cars in the U.S. this year.

The auto sales freeze that accompanied tumultuous winter weather shows signs of thawing with the release of March auto sales numbers.

Auto manufacturers such as Nissan, Chrysler Fiat, Ford, and Toyota released March sales numbers on Tuesday, generally with sales improvements and optimistic notes heading into warmer weather. General Motors, which is usually one of the first to release numbers but has recently been embroiled in a recall scandal, released numbers later in the day due to a computer glitch, also reported gains.

Chrysler Group LLC posted the biggest year over year gains of the major manufacturers, with sales increasing 13 percent in March from last year, beating expectations. The automaker attributes the success to the Ram pickup brand (sales of the new ProMaster pickup, which made its debut in October, surged 85 percent in March) and the Jeep brand (which is up 47 percent month-over-month). It was Chrysler’s best March posting since 2007, despite a 21 percent drop in Chrysler brand sales, which the company attributes to the end of production of two mid-sized vehicles.

“We are entering the spring selling season on a high note as our Jeep and Fiat brands recorded their best sales months ever,” says Reid Bigland, head of US sales in a statement. “Our Ram pickup truck posted its best March sales in 10 years.”

Ford posted a 3.4 percent gain, which was also over expectations, and signaled Ford’s best retail numbers in eight years. It attributes the success to strong gains by the Ford Fusion (up 9 percent on the year).

“March sales turned noticeably higher mid-month and finished strong,” says John Felice, vice president of US marketing, sales and service in a statement. “Fusion set an all-time record in March, as overall retail sales in the West continued to expand at the fastest rate in the nation.”

The Lincoln MKZ is also up 72 percent on the month, contributing to a 31 percent increase in March for the Lincoln brand.

Overseas brands were a mixed bag: Toyota is up 5 percent on the year, Nissan is up 8 percent, and Hyundai/Kia is up 3.7 percent. Volkswagen and Honda, however, didn’t fare so well. Volkswagen is down 2 percent while Honda fell 2.6 percent. But Subaru sales were up 21 percent from last year and the new Forester SUV was up 53 percent from March 2013.

GM, while usually one of the first to post earnings, was noticeably missing as numbers were released Tuesday, as the company reported a computer glitch caused a later-than-usual release. By late afternoon, the company released its numbers which showed a 4 percent year-over-year gain in total sales and a 7 percent gain in retail sales.

The company has been dealing with a major recall controversy over the past few weeks. On Tuesday afternoon, GM’s CEO, Mary Barra, testified to a House subcommittee about the ignition-switch issue that has now been linked to 13 crash deaths.

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