GM, Ford US March sales increase less than predicted

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.

Broad Gains

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.

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