SOUTHFIELD, Mich. - A thaw in the weather began to bring buyers back to showrooms, which allowed General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Nissan and Chrysler to top analysts' estimates for March sales.
SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — A thaw in the weather began to bring buyers back to showrooms, which allowed General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Nissan and Chrysler to top analysts’ estimates for March sales.
Among large automakers, only Honda failed to beat analysts’ predictions. Honda sales fell 2 percent last month, compared with a forecast of a 1.8 percent decline, the average of seven analysts’ estimates.
Ford yesterday forecast an annual, industrywide sales pace of about 16.5?million vehicles, including medium-duty and heavy trucks, which typically account for at least 200,000 sales a year. Chrysler projected a pace of 16.2 million vehicles on that same basis. Analysts had projected a 15.8?million light-vehicle selling rate, up from 15.3?million a year earlier. GM sales rose 4.1?p ercent, after analysts predicted a 0.8 percent rise.
The better-than-estimated results come as welcome relief to automakers that endured two months of quiet dealerships as blizzards and frigid temperatures kept tire-kickers homebound. Light-vehicle sales through February fell 1.4 percent, according to researcher Autodata Corp.
“Things are recovering to where we were last summer,” said Matthew Stover, an analyst at Guggenheim Securities in Boston. “The weakness we saw in January and February had more to do with weather than with the overall economy.”
Dealers began noticing more traffic on their lots in the second half of March, as the weather finally broke and snow began melting in many heavily populated regions of the country, executives said.
“It was encouraging to all of us — after a softer January, February — the spring market kind of bloomed in March,” John Felice, Ford’s U.S. sales chief, said yesterday on a conference call with analysts and reporters. There were “encouraging signs coming out of March,” that bode well for this quarter, he said.
April could be a strong month for auto sales because there is good credit available, plenty of inventory on dealer lots and growing cash incentives from automakers, said Mark Wakefield, a partner at consultant AlixPartners in Southfield, Mich.
“This is the opposite of a perfect storm — it’s a perfect calm,” said Wakefield, whose firm advised GM through its 2009 bankruptcy. “Most Aprils don’t have blizzards and sub-zero temperatures. So with these positive conditions and meaningfully increased incentives, the sales market looks good.”
Honda Accord sales fell 7 percent from March 2013 to 33,962, falling to third place for the month in the midsize sedan market behind the Toyota Camry, which had 41,953 deliveries, and the Nissan Altima, with 35,921. Ford said it sold a record 32,963 Fusion sedans, up 8.8 percent.
Ford’s total light-vehicle deliveries rose 3.3 percent to 243,417. F-Series pickups gained 5.1 percent to 70,940, while Escape SUV sales slipped 0.8 percent to 28,701, the automaker based in Dearborn, Mich., said in a statement. The second-largest U.S. automaker topped the average of nine analysts who projected a gain of 1.1 percent.
Toyota deliveries rose 4.9?percent to 215,348 cars and light trucks, the company said. Nissan sales jumped 8.3 percent to 149,136 vehicles, a monthly record, according to a company statement. That beat projections of a 1.3 percent gain for Toyota and unchanged sales for Nissan, the average of seven analysts’ estimates.
“The good news about these sales is that it says the weakness that we saw in the first two months was really more cosmetic than economic,” Stover said. “But we still are trying to answer the question of whether or not things are actually getting better.”
Hyundai and affiliate Kia, South Korea’s two biggest automakers, sold a combined 121,782 vehicles last month, a 3.7 percent increase. The average of seven analysts’ estimates was for a drop of 2.6 percent. Hyundai, based in Seoul, reported a 1.9 percent decline in sales to 67,005, while Kia said its deliveries grew 12 percent to 54,777.
Chrysler deliveries rose 13?percent to 193,915 for a 48th straight monthly gain, Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Chrysler said yesterday in a statement. The third-largest U.S. automaker beat the average of eight analysts, who projected an expansion of 10 percent. Ram pickup sales rose 26 percent to 42,532, Fiat sales gained 24?percent to 4,738 and Chrysler’s Jeep brand increased 47 percent.
Industrywide sales were expected to rise 2.1 percent to 1.48 million light vehicles, the average of 10 analyst projections showed.
GM may have been little affected by the recall of 2.6?million small cars tied to 13 deaths, because those models are no longer in production. The Detroit-based company reported sales increases of 14 to 46 percent for its three small Chevrolet cars, the Sonic, Spark and Cruze.
The automaker has announced almost 7 million recalls worldwide already this year, including the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups equipped with six-speed transmissions.