March was another successful month for the recovering U.S. auto market. Sales of both international and domestic vehicles exceeded many analysts' predictions, finishing the month up 16.9 percent from March 2010. Some of the biggest gains were seen by Honda (up 25.4 percent from a year ago), Hyundai (up 31.6 percent), and Nissan (up 28.4 percent). Toyota saw sales fall 6.7 percent and Smart had a 37.2 percent drop. On the domestic side, Ford sales outpaced General Motors for the second time since 1998 and the third time since 1970.
"The sales rate has been climbing steadily for more than a year," said AIADA President Cody Lusk. "If gas prices remain high through the spring and summer, dealers expect customers to continue to focus their buying power on fuel efficient vehicles."
Internationals Boost Market Share
During March, international brands gained 2.8 percent of market share from February to finish the month with 56.6 percent of all cars sold in the United States, the highest so far in 2011. Asian automakers held a 48.5 percent share of the market, up from 46.1 percent in February, while European automakers held an 8.1 percent share, up from 7.7 percent in February. International brands sold 706,477 vehicles during the month, up from 535,025 in February of this year and 607,383 in March 2010. Asian nameplates sold 604,943 vehicles, logging a 15.7 percent increase in sales over March 2011, while European nameplates sold 101,534 units, representing a 20 percent increase over March 2011. Domestic brands sold 540,146 vehicles in March for 43.3 percent of the market.
International nameplates held six of the top ten selling vehicle spots during March, which was consistent with last month. The Ford F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado remained the top two selling vehicles, while the Nissan Altima jumped from the seventh spot in February to the second spot this month, overtaking the Toyota Camry to be the top selling car in the U.S. The Altima was followed by the Honda Accord at number four and the Camry at number five. The Hyundai Sonata rejoined the top ten list for the first time since October 2010 with sales of 22,894 units, up 20.9 percent since March 2010. With the exception of the Toyota Camry (down 13.2 percent) every vehicle on the top ten list experienced an average 21.3 percent year-over-year improvement. The Honda Civic was the most significant, with sales up 39 percent, followed by the Nissan Altima (up 31 percent), Ford F-Series Pickup (up 25.3 percent), and Ford Escape (up 25 percent).
Despite rising gas prices, Americans continued to purchase SUVs and crossovers at a higher rate than any other vehicle segment. The segment sold 367,826 units and was up 12.3 percent over the same month last year. The mid-size car segment trailed in second place with sales of 320,251 units, up 19.1 percent over March 2010. However, the small car segment experienced the most significant jump, with sales of 238,257 units which was up 32.1 percent over March 2010. All segments experienced growth in March, with the exception of the large car segment, down 7.4 percent. Asian nameplates sold 383,900 cars and 221,043 trucks in March. European nameplates sold 74,901 cars and 26,633 trucks. Domestic nameplates registered sales of 195,288 cars and 344,858 trucks.
Overall sales, including domestic brands and unadjusted for business days, were up 16.9 percent from March 2011. The seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) for light vehicle sales in March was estimated by AutoData Corp. at 13.1 million units, up from 11.73 in March 2010. The SAAR has risen every quarter since October 2009.
See below for a complete breakdown of March 2011 monthly and year-to-date sales by international nameplate.