Milder weather and strong demand for compact crossovers helped push U.S. auto sales higher in March, enabling automakers to make up some of the ground they lost earlier in the year to historic cold and snow in many parts of the country.
Most major automakers reported modest gains for the month, though the incremental increases were expected to be enough to push the annualized selling rate back above 16 million vehicles.
Nissan and Chrysler Group LLC continued to outpace the industry, with March sales up 12 percent for Nissan and 13 percent for Chrysler. March was Chrysler’s 48th straight month of year-over-year sales gains. Kia said its sales were up 12 percent in March too.
General Motors Co., in the midst of a major recall crisis, managed a 4 percent increase. Ford Motor Co. said its sales were up 3 percent over last year for the best March in eight years.
“March sales turned noticeably higher midmonth and finished strong,” John Felice, Ford’s vice president for U.S. marketing, sales, and service, said in a statement.
Ford said it sold more Fusions last month than any other month in the model’s nine-year history. And its F-Series pickup truck sales rose 5 percent.
Toyota officials also said the month closed on a strong note, with dealers reporting their best two sales weekends of the year in late March. Toyota’s sales were up 5 percent over last year.
“Heading into March we expected to see a rebound, and in fact it was even stronger than we expected,” said Alec Gutierrez, Kelley Blue Book senior analyst.
One reason was strong growth in the compact crossover segment. Going into Tuesday, Kelley Blue Book was forecasting a 15 percent increase in segment sales on several new models.
The Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, and Toyota RAV4 have been redesigned recently. The Toledo-built Jeep Cherokee, a new competitor, is off to a solid start too.
Chrysler said it sold 13,796 Cherokees in March, the second-highest monthly total since the vehicle arrived in dealerships in late October.
“It’s been a pretty good launch so far. I know it got off to a rocky start, but it’s taken off very, very well,” said Michael Barchick, vice president and general manager of Charlie’s Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram in Maumee.
Local sales figures for March aren’t out yet, but in February the Cherokee was Toledo’s second-best-selling vehicle behind the Chevrolet Silverado pickup.
For Chrysler Group, Jeep’s strong performance this year has been key to its gains. Though the Cherokee has filled a hole, Jeep’s entire lineup has sold well. Chrysler said it sold 57,983 Jeeps in March, a 47 percent increase over last year and the brand’s best single-sales month ever.
Sales of the Toledo-built Wrangler were up 12 percent in March to 14,481 — a new record for the month.
The other big seller for Chrysler Group was the Ram pickup, which was up 26 percent in March.
That all helped push Charlie’s Dodge to its best retail month in its 37-year history last month, Mr. Barchick said.
“Leasing is back. The addition of the Cherokee, that has taken off very, very well. The financial institutions are kind of back in the game as far as lending money. It seems like everything is in an upswing at this point,” he said.
Even the winter storms that hit Toledo didn’t seem to have a big effect on the dealership’s new car business. Mr. Barchick said January was flat, but sales rose in February before climbing to record levels in March.
Though Toledo’s market as a whole was down about 6 percent through February, many individual dealers have said they survived the rough winter better than they thought they would.
Marianne Ballas, president of Ballas Buick-GMC on the Central Avenue Strip, said January was slow, but sales have picked up since.
“We have a lot of great inventory, the weather’s breaking, and it seems like business is starting to break. We had a great March. We exceeded last year’s numbers by 12 to 13 percent,” she said.
Ms. Ballas said she is confident the rest of the year will go more like March and less like January.
“I really do think we have some pent-up demand here,” she said. “It did start to break in March, but I think once we have a couple of real beautiful days it will break wide open. Nobody wants to get a brand new car and have salt over it.”