Sales of North American-made autos rose 13.8% in early March, the fourth increase in the past five reporting periods, figures indicated Friday.
But while sales haven’t reached pre-recession levels, some dealers reported showrooms brimming with customers.
“We’re selling some cars, but the amount of window shopping has been phenomenal,” said Bill Seay, general sales manager of Taylor Pontiac in Akron, Ohio. “The last two Saturdays, I haven’t had enough people on the floor to help the customers.”
After slipping 9.9% in late February, vehicle sales resumed an upward trend that began in late January and carried through mid-February. Year to date, domestic car and truck sales are up 5.8%.
The auto sales report joined other positive economic news, including a modest decline in business inventories and two consecutive months of retail sales improvement.
“There’s no doubt about it. This recovery is for real,” said Tom Webb, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Assn.
Three years ago, shortly before the auto industry slipped into recession, North American-made autos were selling at a daily rate of about 30,000. In the most recent period, the estimated daily sales rate was more than 28,000.
The figures for the first 10 days of March also showed Big Three sales increasing faster than those of cars made at Japanese-owned factories in North America.
Overall sales of cars and light trucks made in North America by Japanese companies rose 13%, compared to 13.9% for GM, Ford and Chrysler.
Several days of unseasonably warm temperatures in much of the country also gave a glimpse of the normal upturn in spring buying.