March rolled in like a lion for many automotive manufacturers, as consumer demand for fuel-efficient vehicles and light trucks helped grow industry sales by 17%. This despite average fuel prices creeping above the $4.

A brief overview of brand performance in March 2011 compared to the same period last year:

  • Acura: +12.9%
  • Audi: +19.1
  • BMW: +13.6%
  • Chrysler: -9.2%
  • Ford: +24.5%
  • GM: +11%
  • Honda: +21%
  • Hyundai: +27.9%
  • Jaguar: +5.3%
  • Kia: +36.6%
  • Land Rover: +23.1%
  • Mazda: +15.4
  • Mercedes Benz: +10.7%
  • Mitsubishi: +48%
  • Nissan: +25.9%
  • Porsche: +34.2%
  • Subaru: +17.3%
  • Suzuki: +18.4%
  • Toyota: +14.5%
  • Volkswagon: +15%
  • Volvo: +10.2%

The March numbers were particularly encouraging for GM, which saw robust activity among new models. In fact, combined retail sales for vehicles launched since June 2009 – Chevrolet Equinox, Silverado HD, Cruze and Volt; Buick LaCrosse and Regal; GMC Sierra HD and Terrain; and Cadillac SRX, CTS Wagon and CTS Coupe – increased 54 percent during March and were up 74 percent for the first three months of the year.
“March sales demonstrated our newest models continue to win over customers,” said Don Johnson, vice president, U.S. Sales Operations. “Vehicles like the Chevrolet Cruze and Equinox put us in great position to benefit from consumer’s increasing desire for fuel-efficient vehicles.”

March’s retail sales increase was spurred by a 34-percent rise in passenger car retail sales, led by a 287 percent gain in retail sales of the Cruze over the car it replaced. Meanwhile, March deliveries to fleets declined 1 percent and represented 27 percent of the company’s total sales – the ninth straight month that fleet sales comprised less than 30 percent of total sales.

For the first three months, total sales increased 26 percent to 592,545 units compared to a year earlier. As a result, each of GM’s brands – Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac – gained retail and total market share during the quarter.

“Our plan was to get out of the gates quickly in the first quarter, and we succeeded,” Johnson noted. “Consumers responded favorably to the value of our broad line-up of fuel-efficient cars, trucks and crossovers.”

Industry analysts anticipate slightly slower activity next month due to supply chain disruptions as a result of the crisis in Japan.