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Spring brings growth for US car sales

Sales of new cars in the US last month rose year-on-year for the first time since November – in a sign that the industry’s growth spurt over the past two years has not ground to a halt in freezing conditions.

Harsh weather across much of the US deterred many would-be buyers from visiting dealerships in December, January and February. However, Chrysler, the first of the automakers to report figures on Tuesday, projected that the overall seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales for March would be about 16.2m vehicles, a 6.6 per cent increase on March 2013.

Toyota, third-biggest carmaker in the US by sales, said its own performance last month had been 4.9 per cent better than in March 2013. Ford, the number two, reported sales 3.4 per cent up, while Chrysler, number four, said its March sales were 13 per cent up on last year.

Bill Fay, general manager of the US sales operation for Toyota, said March’s figures had pushed first-quarter figures for the industry ahead of the 2013 rate despite one of the harshest winters on record.

“Toyota dealers had their two best sales weekends of the year late in the month and we’re optimistic that momentum will spring us in into April,” Mr Fay said.

General Motors, the market leader, said a systems problem was holding up the release of its figures.

Ford’s sales benefited from a continued strong performance by its Fusion sedan, with sales up 8.8 per cent on last March, the Mustang sports car, with sales up 21 per cent and F-series pickup trucks, with sales up 5.1 per cent.

“March sales turned noticeably higher mid-month and finished strong,” John Felice, Ford’s vice-president of US marketing, sales and service, said.

Chrysler benefited from the continued popularity of its Jeep SUV and Ram pick-up truck brands, which suffered less in the winter weather than other vehicle types.

Jeep sales were 47 per cent up year-on-year, while Ram sales were 29 per cent up, although the Chrysler brand, waiting for the introduction of the new updated Chrysler 200 sedan, was 23 per cent down.

“We are entering the spring selling season on a high note,” Reid Bigland, Chrysler’s head of US sales, said.

Germany’s Volkswagen, however, continued to suffer from its lack of new products in the US market and reported a 2.6 per cent sales decline against last March.

Mark McNabb, Volkswagen’s chief operating officer for the US, said that, with the spring selling season starting, the company expected to see “more stability ahead” and that it was preparing for the launch of a new Golf compact car this summer.

Ford’s shares rose 3.1 per cent to $16.08.