U.S. sales of new cars and trucks rose in March, helped by a brighter jobs outlook and rising sales of fuel-efficient vehicles.
New vehicle sales rose 11% at General Motors, 16% at Ford, 25% at Honda and 27% at Nissan, all aided by sales of smaller, more efficient cars and crossovers, which look like truck-based SUVs but are more fuel efficient and nimble because they are built on car underpinnings.
Of major automakers, only Toyota Motor Corp. reported a decline, nearly 6%.
In March, the economy added 216,000 new jobs, bringing the unemployment rate to a two-year low of 8.8%, the Labor Department reported Friday. Companies added workers at the fastest two-month pace since before the recession began in late 2007.
Nearly all companies reported strong sales of small cars during the month.
But truck sales also were healthy in March for just about every manufacturer, a sign that businesses were buying as the economy continues to recover.
George Pipas, Ford Motor Co.’s top U.S. sales analyst, said small car sales shot up in the first part of March and then stabilized in the last three weeks as gas prices leveled off at around $3.50 per gallon. But Pipas said it’s unclear if sales stabilized because of gas prices or if limited selection and availability of small cars dampened sales.
Ford had two months’ worth of the Fiesta subcompact at the beginning of March, for example, but that fell to 40 days’ supply at the end of the month as sales outpaced production. And the earthquake in Japan pinched supply of some small cars made there like the Toyota Prius and Honda Fit.
J.D. Power and Associates predicted that nearly a quarter of vehicles sold to individual buyers were compact or subcompact cars.