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Signs of life in the US

Hanging on: The Ford F-Series remains the number-one seller in the US, with 81,000 sales in the first quarter of 2009.

Car sales higher than expected in March, but still down 37 per cent on last year

General News logo6 Apr 2009

NEW vehicle sales in the United States may have been depressed again in March – 37 per cent down on the same month last year – but analysts detect a glimmer of light in the latest figures and that the market may have finally flattened out.

Though undoubtedly boosted by incentives from desperate car-makers and dealers alike, sales in March were considerably better than expected, rising by 23 per cent over February.

Although a rise is normally expected in March as the US awakens from its usual winter slumber, the average increase over the past five years has been 21 per cent, so this year’s result offers some encouragement.

Americans bought only 857,735 new ‘light’ vehicles in March (compared with 1.36 million in the same month last year), but this was much better than the 774,000 and 798,000 figures predicted by industry authorities Edmunds and JD Power.

Year-to-date, sales are down 38.3 per cent, from 3,562,360 to 2,197,239 units.

Detroit’s ailing Big Three suffered the most pain in the first quarter, with General Motors down 48.8 per cent, Chrysler down 45.6 per cent and Ford down 42.8 per cent, but the falls in March were less dramatic at 42.5 per cent, 36.9 per cent and 38.1 per cent respectively.

Chrysler’s sales were its highest for six months, Ford said its retail market share was its best for more than two years and GM reported strong sales the day after the Obama administration forced the resignation of CEO Rick Wagoner.

Japanese car-makers with production plants in the US also fared poorly in March as Toyota dropped 36.6 per cent, Nissan 35.2 per cent and Honda 33.7 per cent.

Things are not much better at home, either, with the Japanese market dropping by 31.5 per cent to 323,063 units in March compared with the same month last year – the lowest for the month since the 1974 oil crisis.

Japan’s total market for the financial year (ending March 31) was down 15.6 per cent – the sixth consecutive year of decline – to 2.9 million units, the country’s lowest in 38 years.

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