Undeterred by rising fuel price, new vehicles sped out of showroom during March at a rate the industry hasn’t seen since the start of the Great Recession.
Nissan North America sales hit an all-time high, while Audi had its 15th consecutive record month. Toyota reported its highest March sales since 2008. On a seasonally-adjusted annual rate, or SAAR, sales shot to 14.7 million for March, well in excess of the roughly 14 million most industry analysts are expecting for all of 2012.
The question is whether the pace will continue. “I don’t expect it to,” cautions David Sullivan, of the consulting firm, AutoPacific, Inc. He fears the sharp rise in fuel prices will “choke things off” when potential buyers have to divert money from their new car budget to fuel.
But other analysts counter that, if anything, motorists may see that as reason to trade in. Significantly, General Motors said it sold more high-mileage offerings than at any time in its history – vehicles getting at least 30 mpg on the highway accounting for 40% of its overall mix last month. Small car sales, in particular, accounted for 29% of Ford Motor Co.’s overall sales – even though demand for the subcompact Fusion actually declined while sales of the compact Focus model were up by a third.