April 3 (Bloomberg) -- General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. posted gains in U.S. vehicle sales that trailed analysts’ estimates while Chrysler Group LLC and Nissan Motor Co. reported better-than-projected increases.
GM sales rose 12% to 231,052 while Ford deliveries advanced 5% to 222,884 cars and light trucks. The average of 10 estimates was for a 19% gain at GM and 5.5% at Ford. Chrysler, controlled by Fiat SpA, said its U.S. sales climbed 34% to 163,381 and Nissan’s sales rose 13% to 136,317, exceeding predictions.
Light-vehicle sales in March may have run at a 14.5 million seasonally adjusted annual rate, the average estimate of 16 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Job gains and buyers who put off car purchases during the recession are driving the fastest three-month auto-sales pace in four years, even as average U.S. unleaded gasoline prices rose 20% since the end of 2011.
“As unemployment comes down and consumer confidence goes up, we see the consumer going out and buying that new vehicle that they put off buying for a number of years,” Joseph Spak, an analyst for RBC Capital Markets in New York, said in an interview yesterday on Bloomberg Television’s “Street Smart.”
The average estimate of 10 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg was for Chrysler’s sales to rise 31%. The average of seven estimates was for an 11% climb at Nissan.
The Fiat 500 achieved record monthly sales of 3,712, according to Chrysler’s statement. Ford said deliveries of the Focus compact rose 65% to 28,293.
Gains extended beyond the Fiat 500. Sales of Ford’s F- Series pickups increased 9% to 58,061. Chrysler said deliveries of its 200 and 300 sedans more than doubled from a year earlier. Sales of the Jeep Liberty, Wrangler and Grand Cherokee sport-utility vehicles each climbed by at least 43%, and Ram pickup deliveries increased 23% to 26,960.
“People didn’t buy for a number of years, so you still have some remaining pent-up demand,” Bert Boeckmann, the owner of a Ford dealership in North Hills, California, said yesterday in a phone interview. “You have a more positive attitude from people about buying cars right now, and you have people who are justifying it on the basis of improving their mileage.”
A 14.5 million sales rate for March would exceed the 13.1 million pace from a year earlier and set an average rate of 14.6 million for the first quarter, ahead of analysts’ estimates for full-year deliveries. Total light-vehicle sales may rise to 1.42 million, the average of eight analysts’ estimates. That would be the highest monthly total since August 2007, according to researcher Autodata Corp.
The 1.2 million jobs created the past six months, the best six-month job growth stretch since 2006, has sent unemployment to a three-year low, according to Labor Department figures. The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index held near the highest level in a year in March, the New York-based private research group said on March 27.
Analysts at Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank AG, Citigroup Inc. and TrueCar.com last month increased their estimates for full-year sales. The four companies increased 2012 estimates by an average of 550,000 vehicles to 14.5 million. IHS Automotive said today it estimates 14.2 million light-vehicle deliveries in the U.S. this year, up from a previous estimate of 14 million.
“We see the economy slowing over the next three to six months,” George Magliano, senior principal economist for IHS Automotive, said today at an auto forum in New York. “That is going to slow down the auto recovery, but it certainly isn’t going to derail it.”
GM sales were boosted by the Chevrolet Sonic subcompact that gets 33 miles (53 kilometers) per gallon in combined city and highway driving. The carmaker said today it delivered more than 100,000 vehicles, including the Sonic, that get 30 mpg or more in highway driving.
Toyota Motor Corp. probably increased total sales by 15%, according to seven analysts’ average estimate. The Toyota City, Japan-based automaker began U.S. deliveries of its 50 mpg Prius c hybrid subcompact last month. The Prius “family” of four models, including the original hatchback, exceeded 25,000 units in March, a record for the model line, Bob Carter, group vice president of U.S. sales, said yesterday in an e-mail.
Volkswagen AG’s namesake brand increased sales by 35% to 36,588, according to a company statement. The gain is matches the 35% gain estimated for combined total deliveries of its Volkswagen and Audi brands, the average of three estimates.
Honda Motor Co.’s sales may have increased 5.3%, the average of seven analysts’ estimates. Affiliates Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. may have combined to sell 18% more vehicles than a year earlier, the average of five analysts’ estimates.