March was a decent month for the auto industry. New-car sales improved 3.4%, riding a trend that began in late 2012. Since last November, auto sales have reached annualized rates not seen since early 2008, according to Automotive News data. Still, car sales fell 1.2% as popular nameplates — the Nissan Altima, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Malibu and Hyundai Sonata — saw double-digit drops. In fact, sales for seven of the top 15 best-selling cars fell.
What propped up the industry in March? SUVs.
Light-duty trucks — a group that includes SUVs, pickups and minivans — gained 9%. If you drill it down to just SUVs, including car-based crossovers, sales grew a significant 11.2%. March opened with gas prices nearing a five-month high but colder temperatures than 2012's unseasonably warm March — dueling factors for SUV sales, it would seem. But a renewed consumer advance toward SUVs, especially small crossovers, drove overall gains.