March auto sales thaw, even for GM, despite recalls – USA TODAY

Posted: Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The auto industry — even recall-beset General Motors —shook off the winter chill in March with a vibrant sales surge.

Despite the firestorm over recalls involving deadly ignition switches, GM saw sales rise 4.1%,from a year ago, according to Autodata. It did even better in retail sales to individuals, up 7%.

GM’s increase beat Detroit rival, Ford Motor, which had a 3.3% gain but fell short of Chrysler Group’s impressive 13% boost.

Kurt McNeil, GM’s U.S. vice president of sales operations, said the automaker’s sales have been steadily improving even as it battles the negative publicity related to the deadly switch recall of 2.53 million older vehicles. In March, Buick’s sales increased 13.4% at Buick, 7.4% at GMC and 3.3% at Chevrolet. Sales fell 6.3% at Cadillac.

“GM’s retail sales, like the weather and the economy as a whole, have been on an improving trend since early February,” McNeil said in a statement. “We expect to see solid economic growth in the months ahead.”

Overall, the industry saw a healthy 5.7% sales increase after a slow start to the year, which automakers attributed to the bitter winter keeping potential car buyers bundled up at home.

“We had a spring thaw,” says Larry Dominique, a former top Nissan executive now president of ALG, an auto leasing service. “It implies steady growth.”

In more good news for the auto industry — and the economy — customers paid higher average prices for vehicles than a year ago. The average transaction price paid for a new vehicles was $31,995 in March, up 1.4% from a year ago, Kelley Blue Book estimates.

Pickups and SUVs continued to rule, outselling cars for a seventh month, according to — the longest streak in favor of trucks since before the recession.

Chrysler attributed its growth to big gains in sales of the new Jeep Cherokee crossover SUV and Ram 1500 pickups. Ford said the sales tally of its F-Series pickups hit 70,940 for the month. And GM scored with models like the Cadillac SRX luxury crossover, up 23.6%, and Silverado pickup, up 6.8%.

Detroit, however, also scored with car sales. GM’s Buick Regal saw a sales rise of 51% and its Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan was up 14%. Ford pointed to sales of its Fusion midsize sedan.

Japanese automakers saw a mixed performance. Nissan hit a sales record with an 8.3% gain. “Our product is really resonating with consumers out there,” says Fred Diaz, senior vice president of sales for Nissan in the U.S.

Toyota says its 4.9% increase took it to its best performance in March since 2008. But Honda fell, down 2%. Subaru’s momentum continued with a 21.2% increase and Mazda rose 9%. South Korea’s Hyundai fell 1.9%, but Kia was up 11.5%.

Among European makers, Volkswagen was flat. But in a sign of how luxury goods are surging, Mercedes rose 11%, BMW 8.1% and Jaguar Land Rover 8.6%.

Contributing: Brent Snavely and Alisa Priddle, Detroit Free Press


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