GM slips as March sales disappoint

Across the board, automakers said that fuel-efficient vehicles were in demand as gas prices creep up.

By Kim Peterson Apr 3, 2012 1:57PM
Image: Car salesman showing couple new silver hatchback in car showroom © Juice Images/Cultura/Getty ImagesUpdated 4:35 p.m. ET

High gas prices aren't hurting car sales at all. The major automakers saw strong sales in March as people rushed to replace older cars with more fuel-efficient vehicles.

But even with a double-digit sales increase, General Motors (GM) didn't do as well as many analysts predicted for the month. The automaker's sales rose 11.8% to 231,052 vehicles -- a nice increase, but less than the 19% analysts expected.

Investors responded by taking GM shares down 4.5% Tuesday to close at $25.54. 

Across the industry, the message for March was the same. Fuel-efficient vehicles were the stars at dealerships as the price of gas nears a nationwide average of $4 a gallon. The price for a gallon of gas averaged $3.92 Tuesday, up from $3.76 a month ago.

GM said Monday that it has 12 vehicles that do at least 30 mpg on the highway, and each of those was a sales winner in March. Combined, those 12 models contributed to 100,000 in sales for the month -- a record for the automaker. And Volkswagen had its best March since 1973.

Ford (F) also disappointed analysts, albeit slightly, with a 5% increase to 223,418 vehicles. Analysts were expecting a 5.5% gain. Ford shares were flat Tuesday and closed at $12.64.

The Ford Fusion set a monthly sales record, with 28,562 units sold, and the Ford Focus had its best March ever, with 28,293 units sold. But Ford trucks also did well -- a sign that the economic recovery is still on track -- with an average 5.6% sales gain.

All of the major automakers reported their March sales Tuesday. The overall industry missed expectations for the month, with the seasonally adjusted annual rate for light vehicles coming in at 14.4 million units, according to industry tracking firm Autodata. That's up from 13.1 million units a year earlier.

Reuters reports that 34 analysts surveyed expected March sales will reach an annualized rate of 14.75 million vehicles. Although the rate came in below expectations, it was still a huge improvement from the last few years, when the spiraling economy led many drivers to put off new-car purchases. Auto sales dropped to 10.4 million in 2009.

Chrysler continues to roar back after dropping to alarming sales levels during the recession. The automaker reported its best monthly sales since March 2008 to 163,381 units. That's 34% higher than a year earlier.

Chrysler's best-selling models included the Chrysler 200 mid-size sedan, the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Ram pickup truck.

Here's a rundown of how other major automakers did in March. I'll update this list as the numbers come in:

Toyota (TM)
Vehicles sold: 203,282
Change from a year earlier: 11.2% gain
Of note: Prius sales up 49% to 28,711 units

Vehicles sold: 136,317
Change from a year earlier: 12.5% gain
Of note: Sales hit an all-time monthly record

Honda Motor (HMC)
Vehicles sold: 126,999
Change from a year earlier: 8.4% decrease
Of note: Declines attributed to an exceptionally strong month a year ago

Vehicles sold: 69,728
Change from a year earlier: 13% gain
Of note: Also hits an all-time monthly record

Vehicles sold: 57,505
Change from a year earlier: 30.2% gain
Of note: Also hits an all-time monthly record

Vehicles sold: 36,588
Change from a year earlier: 34.6%
Of note: Strong sales of the Jetta Sedan and the Passat

Tags: FgmHMCTM
Apr 4, 2012 12:13PM
Actually you need to check your facts GM has cut down their fleet sales bigtime.  The vehicles GM delivers to Fleet arent vehicles they are selling many of.  Like the Impala.  Ford has increased their fleet deliveries.  But GMs fleet sales are less than 30% of total sales which is lower than Ford and Crapsler.  ANd when you factor is that GM is #1 in sales with a lower percentage that number becomes more impressive.
Apr 4, 2012 12:23AM
I hate to say it, but GM and Chrysler are pumping thousands of units in the rental fleets. Great for short term sales, but what happens in 2 to 3 years when those used cars flood the market? It could be bad times ahead for the car market.
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