Car sales ended March on a hot streak, and an even bigger period for automakers and car dealers is upon us.
The year got off to an awful start for the auto industry, with two-plus months of frigid, snow weather resulting in subpar sales tallies that left car dealerships desperate for buyers. Eventually, the buyers didn’t disappoint.
Many of the car purchases that probably would have taken place earlier in the year had Mother Nature cooperated wound up as done deals in March, which started slow but ended up as a strong month for auto sales. According to The Detroit Bureau, Subaru sales in March rose 21% compared to the same month in 2013, while automakers such as Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, and Nissan posted significant (though smaller) sales gains as well.
Clearly, warmer weather helped the cause. “March sales turned noticeably higher mid-month and finished strong,” Ford executive John Felice said. In an end-of-March report, Jessica Caldwell, an Edmunds.com senior analyst, said, “Car buyers who chose not to brave the cold weather last month found plenty of opportunity this month.”
Mercedes, Bloomberg News reported, sold more cars in March than any other month in the company’s history, thanks to an expanded line of vehicles of high- and lower-priced models.
Substantial incentives and discounts offered by car sellers eager to make up for the underwhelming start of the year certainly boosted sales totals as well. TrueCar noted that the average transaction price for a new car in March was up 1.2% over last year, while the average incentive was up 7.9% compared to March 2013, and up 2.6% compared to February 2014.
Overall, the number of light-vehicle sales in March was up 6% year over year. But according to experts cited by Automotive News, the increase is more impressive than it seems because a disproportionate percentage of the sales took place toward the end of the month, after a fairly sluggish start. The end-of-March sales spurt put the industry on pace to sell 16.4 million vehicles for the entire year. Richard Kwas, an analyst with Wells Fargo, thinks that the untold delayed purchases of early 2014 are likely to result in a flood of new-car buys this spring, perhaps bringing the pace up to 17 million or more cars sold by year’s end. A figure that high hasn’t been seen in the U.S. since before the Great Recession.
“The industry needs to see continued momentum,” Kwas said. “But March represents a good start to the spring selling season.”