U.S. sales of cars and light trucks rose 13 percent in March, sending the industry to its the best quarterly pace since 2008, as buyers who put off purchases returned to dealerships to find more fuel efficient models.
Deliveries accelerated to a 14.4 million seasonally adjusted annual rate from 13.1 million a year earlier, according to researcher Autodata Corp. General Motors Co. and Honda Motor Co. missed analyst estimates, leading the industry sales to fall short of the 14.5 million rate that was the average of 16 analyst estimates in a Bloomberg survey.
Automakers and analysts are increasing their estimates for full-year industry sales, citing pent-up demand from consumers who delayed purchases during the recession. Buyers who returned to the market found greater selection of subcompact and compact cars, as well as smaller sport-utility vehicles and pickups that get better fuel economy. That boosted demand as gasoline prices rose 20 percent since the end of 2011.
“The recovery in the industry that we’ve been experiencing has some legs,” Jesse Toprak, an industry analyst with TrueCar.com in Santa Monica, California, said in a phone interview. “We’re going to have ups and downs throughout the year, but the trajectory of growth is healthy. The first quarter easily exceeded everybody’s expectations.”
Better-than-estimated sales for Chrysler Group LLC, Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. in March helped the average U.S. sales rate in the first quarter accelerate to 14.6 million, according to Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey-based Autodata. That’s the best pace since the industry averaged a 15.5 million rate in the first quarter of 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
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