The American consumer returned in force to automobile showrooms in March, lifting an industry that had been plodding along in a post-sales boom hangover. The biggest players in the North American market all posted gains some eye popping compared to March 2017. Analysts expected the industry as a whole to report a two to three-percent sales increase. General Motors was up an unusually high 16 percent, followed by Fiat Chrysler’s 14 percent sales jump. Ford rose 3.4 percent and Toyota gained 3.5 percent.
“March proved to be a lion for the domestic automakers, with double and even triple-digit sales increases posted for redesigned SUVs,” Rebecca Lindland, executive analyst at Kelley Blue Book, said in prepared remarks. While trumpeting retail market share gains, GM announced it would stop the decades-old industry practice of announcing sales totals on a monthly basis, switching to quarterly reports instead. The car giant, accounting for 18 percent of the North American market, will instead report sales on a quarterly basis, similar to the electric car maker Tesla.
The move could frustrate analysts’ efforts to compile a monthly snapshot of the industry, especially if other major auto makers follow GM’s lead, said economist Charlie Chesbrough of Cox Automotive. “Measuring monthly sales is already difficult,” Chesbrough said in a statement. “Having incomplete data will make it even more challenging.” But for the time being, March numbers from major automakers suggested US consumers were in a buying mood.
Fiat Chrysler appeared the biggest beneficiary. Its Jeep SUV brand had a 45 percent sales jump, helping lift the automaker out of months of decline. Crossovers, pickups and SUVs also lifted GM, which highlighted its newly redesigned Chevrolet Equinox and Traverse SUVs as setting March sales records.
“The job market is strong, consumer confidence is at decade-high levels and we see clear evidence that business owners are taking advantage of tax reform to upgrade their fleets,” GM’s chief economist Mustafa Mohatarem said in a statement. Tesla reported first-quarter production totals that fell short of its goal of 2,500 Model 3 sedans per week. Still the company said total output was up 40 percent from the previous quarter.