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March Was Not a Great Month for Most Automakers

Inside Car Dealerships Ahead of Motor Vehicle Sales FiguresInside Car Dealerships Ahead of Motor Vehicle Sales Figures
A Fiat dealership.Photograph by Bloomberg via Getty Images

General Motors (GM), Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU), and other major automakers reported weaker-than-expected U.S. sales for March, hurt by declining demand for sedans and light dealer traffic during the Easter weekend.

Sales for the month appeared to be about 16.8 million vehicles on an annualized basis, well below expectations of about 17.25 million, company executives and analysts said. Shares of several automakers fell.

Mark Wakefield, head of AlixPartners’ automotive practice, said light dealer traffic over the Easter weekend, which usually falls in April, hampered sales.

Still, he said he remained confident that 2016 sales would exceed the 2015 record of 17.4 million vehicles as relatively low interest rates, strong employment, and low gasoline prices support demand for new vehicles, particularly SUVs and pickup trucks.

While Ford (F) and Nissan’s results topped estimates, those from the remaining top half-dozen automakers in the U.S. market fell short of expectations.

Japanese carmaker Toyota (TM) said its sales fell 2.7% to 219,842 vehicles. Analysts on average had expected about 239,000, or a rise of about 6%, according to a Reuters poll.

Honda’s (HMC) sales were up 9.4% against analysts’ expectations of a 17% rise.

Fiat Chrysler’s sales rose 8% to 213,187 vehicles, well below analysts’ estimates of 220,000 to 229,700.

Normally the largest U.S. automaker, GM said its sales rose 0.9% to 252,128 vehicles, about 2,600 fewer than crosstown rival Ford’s and below the 3% increase analysts expected.

 

Sales to consumers rose 6%, GM said, as it pulled back on its sales to rental agencies, which are not as lucrative. The company plans to cut sales to U.S. rental car fleets by 80,000 to 90,000 vehicles this year.

Honda said its U.S. sales rose 9.4%, but analysts had expected a 17% increase.

Ford said its March sales rose 8%, narrowly topping analyst expectations. The average selling price of its vehicles increased $1,600, said U.S. sales chief Mark LaNeve.

Nissan reported a 13% gain on the strength of its mainstay sedans, beating expectations of a rise of 11%.