March Was a Record Month for Auto Sales

  • Share
  • Read Later
Adam Gault / Getty Images

A struggling economy has translated into good business at auto repair shops, as Americans hung onto their old cars longer and occasionally needed expert assistance keeping them on the road. Well, business might be slowing down a bit for the local mechanic. In another sign that the economy is in recovery mode, auto sales in March are the strongest they’ve been since the start of the Great Recession.

For that matter, auto sales have been hot throughout all of early 2012. February boasted monster sales numbers, with roughly 1.1 million cars sold, a 20% increase over January and a 6% rise compared to February of 2011.

The projections for March look even stronger. TrueCar estimates that 1.4 million automobiles will be sold by the end of the month, which would represent an increase of 26.5% compared to February and 14.3% over March 2011. The last time that this many cars were sold in month (1.4 million), it was 2007.

(MORE: A Real Recovery? 6 Alternative Economic Indicators Say Yes)

Early this year, insiders predicted that 13.945 million cars would be sold in 2012. Perhaps the 14 million mark would be hit. But several months of exceedingly strong sales have forced prognosticators to erase their earlier estimates and raise them a bit. Now, TrueCar says that it’s likely that 14.5 million cars will be sold in 2012.

“We are looking at a record breaking month for many manufacturers in March with Hyundai, Nissan and Volkswagen expected to have their highest unit sales ever in the U.S.,” said Jesse Toprak, Vice President of Market Intelligence for “We also forecast that Chrysler, Ford, GM, Honda and Toyota will have an extremely strong month, with some of the highest unit sales in years.”

Chrysler, which was once considered a dead man walking, ended 2011 with exceptionally strong sales figures. The hot streak has continued into 2012, with a 27% increase in sales in February compared to the year before. The number of cars sold by the automaker this month should be around 30% higher than March of 2011.

(MORE: Stick Shift Extinction? The Battle to Save the Manual Transmission)

Hyundai offers another interesting story. Forbes recently covered the efforts of the company’s CEO, John Krafcik, to promote the Korean automaker’s high-end automobiles. But amid $4 gas prices it’s Hyundai’s reliable, affordable, fuel-efficient models that have led to brisk sales. Krafcik Tweeted so much this week:

“We’ll set an all-time sales record in March, thx to 35-40mpg Sonata, Hybrid, Accent, Elantra, Veloster. Welcome all new Hyundai owners! ^jfk”

One final noteworthy tidbit: In light of 1.4 million cars sold in March, a mere 1,201 vehicle sales wouldn’t seem to merit much attention. But, as Toyota announced earlier this month, that’s the number of Prius Cs—its smaller Prius, starting under $19K—that sold in the first three days on the market.

(MORE: Even with $4 Gas, Few Drivers Choose Electric Cars — Or Even Hybrids)

We need the experts at Edmunds to put this in perspective: More than a dozen vehicles widely available in the U.S. failed to sell as many units in the entire month of February as the Prius C did in just three days. What’s more, the numbers indicate that the C, with its reasonable starting price and excellent gas mileage, is stealing the thunder away from plug-in cars, which are already struggling to attract buyers thanks partly to exorbitant MSRPs:

Volt shoppers are noticing Prius C. And to be fair, so are Leaf shoppers. And a lot of other shoppers for that matter. It is clear Prius C is a good option for someone in need of an inexpensive, fuel efficient vehicle. And luckily for Toyota, there are a lot of those people out there right now.

Originally, Toyota planned on producing 20,000 Cs per month, with roughly 6,000 bound for the U.S. monthly. Now, reports have surfaced that Toyota may up the output to 30,000 Cs monthly, or even higher.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.