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Pickups give automakers March boost

Keywords: Tags  auto sales, pickup trucks, General Motors, Kurt McNeil, Ford Motor, Erich Merkle, Ken Czubay, Corinna Petry

CHICAGO — The top-selling automakers in the United States sold more than 1.25 million vehicles in March, 3.2 percent higher than in March last year, prompting several manufacturers to call it their best March in years.

Year-to-date sales by the top automakers totaled nearly 3.17 million vehicles, a 6.4-percent improvement from the same period a year earlier thanks to a surge in pickup sales.

"This is our best result for any March in five years," Kurt McNeil, vice president of U.S. sales operations for Detroit-based General Motors Co., said during GM’s monthly sales call. "We are seeing good growth in the pickup truck segment. As a percent of industry sales, it’s (up) 1.2 points for the quarter vs. a year ago. Our full-size pickup truck (sales rose) 21 percent. We see truck sales fueled primarily by growth in housing."

McNeil said the only headwinds are higher taxes and lower government spending. "Everything else seems to be pretty positive: jobs, housing, available consumer credit, stock market performance and fuel price stability," he said.

"Full-size pickups continue to outpace the industry," Erich Merkle, Ford Motor Co. U.S. sales analyst, said during the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker’s monthly sales call. "This represents a departure from what we have been seeing since the recession.

"We anticipate the (truck) segment will outpace the overall industry (in March) with a year-over-year increase in the mid- to high teens," he said, estimating that the full-size pickup segment represented 11.6 percent of industry sales in March compared with 10.5 percent a year earlier.

Ford posted its best March sales in six years and its best monthly sales performance overall since May 2007, said Ken Czubay, vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service.

First-quarter F-Series pickup sales totaled 168,843 vehicles, the best first-quarter sales performance since 2007, he said. "We are pleased with the numerical size of the full-size pickup truck business, and the segment share is improving even beyond seasonality. America is really buying pickup trucks."

Ford previously estimated full-size pickup sales would total about 50,000 vehicles per month but has been surpassing that expectation by up to 17,000 vehicles.

"Trees don’t grow to the sky, but we can definitely meet any projected market demand for (the) F-Series for the foreseeable future, even as hot as it’s running right now," Czubay said.

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