Auto sales turned up in March as relief from the bitter winter cold in much of the nation brought shoppers back to showrooms.
"Solid March sales pushed first-quarter industry results ahead of last year's pace despite one of the harshest winters on record," said Bill Fay, general manager of Toyota's U.S. sales division. "Toyota dealers had their two best sales weekends of the year late in the month, and we're optimistic that momentum will spring us in into April."
"March sales turned noticeably higher mid-month and finished strong," said John Felice, Ford vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service.
"We are entering the spring selling season on a high note as our Jeep and Fiat brands recorded their best sales months ever and Chrysler Group extended its streak in March to 48 consecutive months of year-over-year sales increases," said Reid Bigland, the automaker's U.S. sales chief. "Our Ram pickup truck posted its best March sales in 10 years."
Nissan Group said its March sales rose 8.3% to 149,136 vehicles, the best monthly total in the company's history.
Subaru of America also posted a big gain, reporting sales of 44,479 vehicles, a 21% increase.
Japanese nameplates such as Subaru, Nissan and Toyota offered attractive deals in March "because it's the end of the Japanese fiscal year, and those brands step up their incentives to make one last sales push," said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst at car shopping company Edmunds.com.
But for the entire industry, Edmunds.com forecast that sales rose about 2% to almost 1.5 million vehicles in March. That represented a healthy annual sales pace of about 15.8 million after adjusting for seasonal factors.