U.S. auto sales at the Big Three declined in March, as consumers curbed large purchases amid war concerns and a soft job market.

General Motors

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and DaimlerChrysler's

Chrysler Group

(DCX)

said sales of new cars and trucks dropped 3%, while

Ford

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reported a 7.9% decline in March sales.

The results were better than the declines analysts had expected, which were about 10% for Chrysler, 5% for General Motors and 4% for Ford, the largest and second-largest automakers, respectively.

GM sold 391,752 units, the most of the three, followed by Ford, with 302,463 vehicles, and DaimlerChrysler, with 210,941 units.

All three automakers put a positive spin on the results. Ford forecast "a very strong April" for the industry, after the company managed to increase its market share in the first quarter to 21%.

GM was also positive in a company statement: "Despite current economic uncertainty, industry sales remain solid, in part due to across-the-board incentive activity by all manufacturers," said John Smith, group vice president of GM North America Sales, Service and Marketing.

The prospects of a prolonged war with Iraq, further hampering an already struggling economy, have weighed on consumer sentiment. Fears of slow growth worsening the employment situation kept buyers away from dealerships in March.

In the battle to keep market share intact amid slow demand, GM raised the bar Monday by offering five-year, no-interest loans on nearly all new vehicles, as well as a cash-back bonus of up to $3,000, its most aggressive incentives program ever. DaimlerChrysler immediately followed suit and offered the same program Tuesday. Ford is expected to announce the same deal soon.