DETROIT — The Chevrolet Malibu midsize sedan, Ford Edge SUV, Jeep Compass SUV and Nissan Sentra compact sedan were standouts in a positive March car sales report that saw car shoppers snapping up vehicles from a wide variety of segments.
Echoing a trend that resonated across much of the industry, Ford noted "solid sales momentum" in nearly every vehicle category.
"Customers continue buying high-end SUVs and trucks, helping the Ford brand increase its average transaction prices by more than $1,600 per vehicle in March, nearly double the industry average," said Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, in a statement on Friday. "We have been seeing solid sales momentum in the first quarter across our entire portfolio, with car, SUV and truck sales up across the board.
Healthy truck sales powered much of the sales momentum in March.
"Trucks hauled the industry to see the best March in over a decade," said Bill Fay, Toyota division group vice president and general manager, in a statement. "For the Toyota division, light trucks, mostly supported by record sales of RAV4 and Highlander, posted best-ever March and first-quarter sales.
Toyota sales were down 2.7 percent overall in March, compared to a year ago.
As automakers wrapped up the first quarter, an optimistic mood seemed to be sweeping the industry.
"The underlying strength of the U.S. economy is very positive for auto sales," said Mustafa Mohatarem, GM's chief economist, in a statement. "We expect historically low interest rates, strong employment, rising wages and stable fuel prices to continue for the foreseeable future."
The Detroit 3 saw sales increases in March.
Ford's March sales were up 8 percent compared to a year ago, as dealers delivered 254,711 vehicles.
Fiat-Chrysler reported U.S. sales of 213,187 in March, an 8 percent increase versus a year ago.
GM delivered 193,524 vehicles in March, posting a 6-percent increase year over year.
Sales of the Ford Edge increased 49 percent in March.
Fiat-Chrysler said the Jeep brand's 15 percent increase was the largest sales gain of any Fiat-Chrysler brand in March.
"As consumers continue to shift their buying preference toward utility vehicles and trucks, they are walking directly into the FCA wheelhouse," said Reid Bigland, Fiat-Chrysler senior vice-president of North America sales, in a statement.
GM's gains were powered by Chevrolet, which the company described as "the main engine of growth." The brand's retail sales were up 10 percent in the first quarter compared to a year ago.
March sales of the Chevrolet Malibu were up 65 percent, while Camaro sales were up 23 percent.
"The Malibu had its best first quarter since 1980," GM said.
Nissan reported double-digit gains in March, turning in a sales increase of 13 percent versus the prior year, a best month-ever record, the automaker said.
Sales of the Sentra increased 23 percent versus a year ago, setting a March record. Murano sales jumped 56 percent.
"Nissan Division sales were led by March record-breaking sales of the Sentra and our best-ever sales month for light trucks and crossovers," said Judy Wheeler, vice president of Nissan Division U.S. sales, in a statement.
Undaunted by the ongoing Volkswagen/Audi diesel emissions scandal, Audi of America reported its 63rd consecutive sales record in the U.S. for March with 18,392 vehicles sold, an increase of 7.5 percent over a year ago.
"Customer response to our newly designed models, like the all-new A4 and Q7, has bolstered sales, a sign of more good things to come," said Mark Del Rosso, Audi of America chief operating officer, in a statement. "This spring will bring another landmark launch when the next-generation R8 supercar arrives at our Audi dealerships."
VW sold 3,519 Tiguans in March.
American Honda Motor Co. credited "trucks and sedans" for pushing the automaker to "robust March sales."
Honda reported March sales of 138,221 Honda and Acura vehicles, an increase of 9.4 percent for the month.
Honda Civic sales increased 21.8 percent to a new March record of 32,855.
Edmunds says: Automakers and car dealers head into the hot summer selling season riding a major wave of momentum.