March kicked off a critical spring selling season for US light-vehicles. Auto sales rose by 6.4 percent, which was the biggest year-over-year increase since Feb. 2016. Overall, light-vehicle sales are up 2% this year. 2018 is off to a good start.

Economists credit a strong US job market and the highest consumer confidence level in a decade for the steady growth in sales. In March, US light-truck sales increased 16 percent, and 9.5 percent over the first quarter.

So, who were the winners in March, and how did they do it? While many brands realized an increase last month, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and Volkswagen Group lead the way. These impressive sales seem to be driven by high incentive offerings, along with demand for light trucks, and hot new crossover SUV models. Car sales continue to stagnate

General Motors 

GM posted double-digit growth numbers across all 4 brands. Chevrolet rose 16 percent, 11 percent at GMC, 13 percent at Cadillac, and a whopping 28 percent at Buick. GM’s popular lineup of pickups and crossovers are the main contributors to these numbers, along with hefty rebates for consumers.March Auto Sales

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

The clear winners at FCA are Jeep and Alfa Romeo, while Ram surprisingly slipped 13 percent. The introduction of the all-new Jeep Wrangler lead the way for FCA and resulted in nearly 100,000 total Jeep brand vehicles sold in March. Alfa Romeo continues to be a brand to watch with a 364 percent increase in March.

While other manufacturers achieved high sales with the help of hefty rebates, Jeep and Alfa Romeo did so with little or no incentives.

Volkswagen Group

As with many other crossover brands in the market right now, Volkswagen is riding high on a wave of popularity and demand for its hot new line of crossover SUV’s. The attractive new Atlas seems to be popping up everywhere. Volkswagen sales were up 18 percent in March.

Not everything is hot at Volkswagen, however. A slowdown in Passat sales caused the car maker to idle its Chattanooga, TN plant in the first week of April.

Other Winners

Ford is up 3.5 percent year-over-year, despite a slip in volume at Lincoln. Toyota sales volumes continue to rise due to strong truck sales. Honda has marked an increase of 2.6 percent with increases across all lines, led by a 7 percent increase in light-truck sales and crossover SUV sales.

Industry Outlook

As interest rates continue to rise, borrowing will continue to get tougher. Although 2018 is off to a good start, experts predict that auto sales will continue to slump, while demand for light-trucks and crossover SUV’s will continue to lead in volume.

After seven straight annual gains, capped by a record 2016, the U.S. new-vehicle market dropped 1.8 percent to 17.245 million units last year. Overall, U.S. auto sales are forecast to drop below 17 million for the first time in three years, with most 2018 estimates from analysts ranging from 16.7 million to 16.9 million units.

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