Rising oil prices didn't hold back U.S. auto sales in March. Instead, they continued to climb for the seven major automakers. Toyota, General Motors, Ford, Honda, Nissan, Chrysler, and Hyundai combined for sales a little over 1 million vehicles. They increased 24% from February and were 15% higher than in March 2010. The American consumer is looking quite resilient, despite the recent shocks that have hit the global economy.
First, here's a chart showing the year-over-year results:
As you can see, most automakers had sales growth last month, compared to March 2010. The key exception is Toyota. This is a tad surprising, considering that it was still dealing with fallout over the alleged accelerator problems at that time, which had surfaced in early 2010. It's hard to believe the earthquake in Japan could have affected its U.S. sales much, since Nissan and Honda still reported relatively strong sales growth.
Hyundai's performance was particularly notable. Its big 32% increase to 61,873 March sales was the best month the automaker has ever seen. Its previous record was set during the "cash-for-clunkers" program in August 2009. Americans have become much more comfortable with the Korean automaker's vehicles over the past few years.
The picture is a little different if you look at a month-over-month comparison:
Here, Toyota doesn't look so bad. GM is the only automaker that had a worse March than February. The rest all saw sizable increases in their sales. Again, Hyundai was the standout.
If you look at the market share within this universe of seven automakers, one aspect jumps out: Ford surpassed GM.
As Toyota and GM lost share from a year earlier, the other companies gained share:
Toyota's big 4% dip is hard to miss. Nissan and Chrysler's market share each rose by a little over 1%.
You might have expected auto sales to decline in March, as high oil prices might be causing consumer cautiousness on spending. We didn't see that, however. One possible reason why could be that gas prices are encouraging Americans to buy a new, higher gas mileage car sooner, rather than later. There are obviously many high-mileage options available these days, as even some non-hybrid vehicles have been engineered to get in the ballpark of 40-miles-per gallon on the highway, like the Chevy Cruze Eco and Hyundai Elantra. Considering that smaller cars drove the increase in sales, this sounds like a pretty reasonable theory.
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