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Strong Economy, Discounts Boost Automakers U.S. March Sales

Strong Economy, Discounts Boost Automakers U.S. March Sales

“March was an exceptional month for us,” GM’s U.S. head of sales Kurt McNeil said in a statement. “A growing economy and strong new products helped us execute a very successful plan to conquest customers from other brands.”

While GM said its average transaction price was up $900 in the first quarter, the company’s consumer discounts as a percentage of transaction prices hit 14.5 percent in March.

The No. 1 U.S. automaker said earlier on Tuesday it will stop reporting monthly U.S. vehicle sales, saying the 30-day snapshot does not accurately reflect the market and will instead issue quarterly sales.

Other automakers have not yet said whether they will follow suit.

Industry analysts consider discounts of over 10 percent to be unhealthy as they undermine resale values and erode profits.

When issuing a March sales forecast last week, industry consultants J.D. Power and LMC Automotive said industry wide discounts in the first half of the month were at 10.3 percent.

Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist at Cox Automotive, said the impact of the recent U.S. tax overhaul tax “may now be kicking in and lifting the market above previous expectations.”

“Our expectation is that more interest rate increases will occur in 2018 and the resulting higher monthly payments will, eventually, slow the current pace,” he said.

FCA’s retail sales to consumers outstripped those of No. 2 U.S. automaker Ford Motor Co. But FCA also saw a 22 percent increase in lower-margin fleet sales to rental car companies and government agencies. Over the past year FCA has pursued a policy of cutting fleet sales.

Ford reported a 3.4 percent increase in overall sales for March, led by an 8.7 percent rise in fleet sales. Retail sales were up just 0.8 percent in the month, but Ford said sales of its best-selling F-Series pickup trucks were the best since 2000.

Toyota Motor Corp reported a 3.5 percent increase in sales in March, with double-digit increase in SUV and pickup truck sales offsetting a 6.1 percent decrease in sedan sales. Sales of the company’s completely revamped flagship Camry sedan fell 1.1 percent.

Honda Motor Co Ltd said its March sales rose 3.8 percent, thanks largely to SUV and pickup truck sales. The automaker’s new Accord sedan saw a 9.9 percent sales decrease.

U.S. consumers have increasingly shunned passenger cars in favor of more comfortable, higher-margin SUVs and pickup trucks.

Nissan Motor Co Ltd bucked the trend for the month with a 3.6 percent decline in sales, led by an 8.9 percent drop in sedan sales.

In afternoon trading, GM shares were up 2.8 percent at $36.75, while FCA shares jumped 9 percent to $21.75, and Ford shares were up 2.4 percent at $11.13.

(Reporting by Nick Carey; Editing by Tom Brown and Lisa Shumaker)

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