The March 11 earthquake that has shut factories of manufacturers and their suppliers may not have a “significant” impact on industry sales, vice president of U.S. sales at GM, said. GM continues to see industrywide U.S. auto sales rising to 13 million to 13.5 million in 2011, including medium-and heavy-duty vehicles, he said. Light-vehicle sales in 2010 rose to 11.6 million from a 27-year low in 2009.

  • U.S. light vehicle sales jumped 17% in March despite lower incentives and consumer unease over rising fuel prices and Middle East turmoil. The seasonally adjusted annual selling rate of 13.1 million is just below February’s 13.4 million and higher than the 12.6 million SAAR of January and December, according to the Automotive News Data Center. March sales were hampered as some consumers worried about fuel prices and the Middle East delayed purchases, said Jesse Toprak, vice president of TrueCar.com. Automakers sold 1,246,668 units in March, compared with 1,066,298 in March 2010.
     
  • Ford outsold GM in March. Last month, Ford sold 212,295 light vehicles in the United States to GM’s 206,621, a margin of 5,674 units. In March, Ford beat GM using only two brands, Ford and Lincoln. But for the year to date, GM remains well ahead of Ford. In the first three months, it’s GM 592,546, Ford 495,508.
     
  • Among the seven largest auto groups, U.S. light vehicle sales in March were a lot better for the bottom four than the top three. Leaders GM and Ford had sales rise but not as much as the industry as a whole. Volume at No. 3 Toyota (www.toyota.co.jp) fell 6% from a strong year-ago March. But the other four far outperformed the industry. Sales for No. 4 American Honda (www.world.honda.com) rose 24%. No. 7 Hyundai-Kia Automotive (http://worldwide.hyundai.com) jumped 37%. Chrysler Group (www.chryslergroupllc.com) and Nissan (www.nissan-global.com) ran neck and neck. Chrysler’s March sales soared 31% to 121,730. Nissan gained 27% to 121,141 units. For the first three months, Chrysler leads Nissan by 1,592 units.
     
  • Small cars gained the most among categories in March, up 32% to 192,879 units, according to the Automotive News Data Center’s segmentation. Sporty cars rose 23% and crossovers were up 24%. Other segments grew, but at rates below the overall market’s 17% increase. Mid-range cars rose 15% and upscale cars 9%. Pickups were up 14%, vans 16% and crossovers 11%.
     
  • Mercedes-Benz (www.daimler.com) continues to lead in the three-way race to be America’s top-selling luxury brand. In March, it’s Mercedes (excluding Sprinter commercial vans) 21,484, defending champion Lexus (www.lexus.com) 20, 682and BMW (www.bmw.com) brand 20,295. A quarter of the way through the calendar, Lexus is running third: Mercedes 53,346, BMW 52,617 and Lexus 47,356.

Sources: Detroit Free Press, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, Automotive News, Bloomberg News, Automotive NewsWire