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Chrysler extends U.S. sales streak as Dodge Dart gains traction

GM makes gains with Chevy Sonic, Fusion sedan boosts Ford

Published April 2, 2013

Chrysler Group LLC, joining U.S. automakers in fielding their most competitive cars in decades, said its March U.S. sales rose 5 per cent as the Dodge Dart compact helped extend a streak of monthly gains.

Sales for Chrysler, majority owned by Fiat SpA, climbed to 171,606 cars and light trucks from 163,381 a year earlier, the Auburn Hills, Mich.-based company said in a statement. The automaker topped the 3 per cent increase that was the average of 10 analysts’ estimates in a Bloomberg survey.

Chrysler’s U.S. vehicle sales have increased 36 consecutive months, the longest stretch in the company’s records that date back to 1985. The Dart joins Ford Motor Co.’s Fusion and General Motors Co.’s Chevrolet Sonic in posting gains in small and mid-size car segments previously dominated by Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. and pacing the best year for U.S. auto sales since 2007.

“We’re at a point now where the cars coming out of Detroit are on par with the best the Japanese can offer and it’s led to a more competitive market,” Alec Gutierrez, an analyst at researcher Kelley Blue Book, said in an interview before Chrysler released its sales results.

U.S. light-vehicle sales probably climbed 4.2 per cent in March to 1.46 million, the average estimate of 10 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. The annualized industry sales rate, which is adjusted for seasonal trends, may have risen to 15.4 million, the average of 15 estimates, from 14.1 million a year earlier. If that pace keeps up, it will be the highest total since 2007.

Chrysler forecast a 15.6 million industry sales pace for March, including medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, which typically account for at least 200,000 deliveries per year. Dart, which was introduced in June, set a monthly sales record of 8,091 units.

Cars such as the Dart and the Chrysler 200, which had an 11 per cent sales increase last month, are buoying the company’s deliveries as the automakers retools its Jeep factories to make redesigned models such as the Compass, Grand Cherokee and new Cherokee. Chrysler’s North American production this year through February slipped 5.8 per cent to 360,862 vehicles.

“We’re seeing the Dart gain a little bit of traction,” Kelley Blue Book’s Gutierrez said in a phone interview. “Last year, the story was all around Jeep and that brand keeping Chrysler’s story going along. There’s going to be a little bit of a lag in their product line on the Jeep side for now.”

Ford, boosted by sales of the redesigned Fusion sedan, probably outpaced the industry’s sales gain in March by delivering 4.4 per cent more cars and light trucks than a year earlier, the average estimate of 11 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. The Dearborn, Mich.-based company’s sales increase topped the market in both January and February as the Fusion vaulted into the top five models by deliveries in the U.S.

GM, which is introducing 13 new Chevrolets this year and showed a redesigned Cadillac CTS during last week’s New York show, probably led major automakers in posting a 12 per cent increase in sales for March, the average of 11 estimates. The Detroit-based automaker’s Chevy Sonic is leading small cars such as Ford’s Fiesta, Honda’s Fit and Toyota’s Yaris in its segment for the second straight year.

American sedans are providing stiffer competition to stalwarts like Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord and are steering U.S. auto sales to a fourth straight annual gain, the longest streak since 2000. Through February, Fusion was the fifth bestselling model in the U.S., behind Ford’s F-Series pickup line, GM’s Chevrolet Silverado pickup, Camry and Accord.

Honda may have trailed GM with an 8.5 per cent increase in March, the average of eight estimates. John Mendel, the head of U.S. sales for the Tokyo-based carmaker, in an interview forecast 138,000 deliveries for the month, which would be an 8.7 per cent gain.

Toyota’s U.S. sales may rise 1.6 per cent in March, the average estimate of eight analysts. The company is based in Toyota City, Japan. Camry remained the bestselling car this year through February, with 11,244 more deliveries than Accord and 12,893 more than Fusion.

Ford’s F-Series truck line, with 101,330 sales through February, and GM’s Chevrolet Silverado pickups, 77,088, were the two bestsellers through February, according to Autodata.

Nissan Motor Co.’s sales may have dropped 2.1 per cent from a year earlier, the average of eight estimates. Nissan is based in Yokohama. Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp., the Seoul- based affiliates, may have combined to sell 6.8 per cent fewer vehicles in March compared with a year earlier, the average of seven estimates.

Volkswagen AG, based in Wolfsburg, Germany, may have posted an 11 per cent gain in combined sales for its Volkswagen and Audi brands in March, the average of four estimates.

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