U.S. auto sales slowed down a bit in March, but the industry remains optimistic about the market.
March sales were expected to be flat compared with last March. Car buying site TrueCar.com predicted total U.S. sales of 1.5 million vehicles in March, down less than 1 percent from a year ago.
General Motors' sales fell 2 percent and Ford and Nissan both saw 3 percent declines compared with last March. FCA — the parent of Chrysler and Fiat — said its U.S. sales rose 2 percent in March. But sales of its top seller, the Ram pickup, were down 2 percent.
Other automakers were scheduled to report sales later Wednesday.
March won't see the kind of big increases the industry is used to. U.S. auto sales were up 14 percent in January, for example, and 5 percent in February.
But there were several contributing factors. Last March saw a surge in sales after an unusually cold February; by contrast, this March still had lingering snow in much of the country. This March also had one less weekend than last March.
Analysts said sales remain on track to reach 17 million this year, their best performance since 2005. Low interest rates, low gas prices, the improving economy and hot new SUVs like the Subaru Outback and the Jeep Cherokee are all drawing buyers to dealerships. Cherokee sales were up 38 percent in March.
GM — like other automakers — saw big declines in car sales as consumers flocked to SUVs and trucks. Sales of the compact Sonic dropped 51 percent for the month, and Cadillac ATS sales dropped 31 percent. But Chevrolet Silverado pickup sales were up 7 percent. GM sold 249,875 cars and trucks last month.
Ford's F-Series pickup truck sales were down 5 percent as the company continues to change over to its new aluminum-bodied F-150. Ford has said it won't have normal truck inventory levels on dealers' lots until this summer. But the company also saw big declines for some of its other top sellers, including the Escape SUV, which was down 8 percent, and the Fusion sedan, which saw a 12 percent sales decline. Ford sold 235,929 cars and trucks last month.
FCA sold 197,261 vehicles last month. It was the company's best March since 2007. Jeep sales jumped 23 percent thanks to brisk sales of the Cherokee, Grand Cherokee and Patriot SUVs. Chrysler brand sales were also up as sales of its 200 sedan more than doubled.
Nissan's truck and SUV sales were up 15 percent thanks to strong sales of its new Rogue crossover. But that wasn't enough to offset a 13 percent decline in car sales. Nissan sold 145,085 vehicles last month.
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