Chrysler said March sales fell 39%, but the automaker surpassed sales of 100,000 units for the first time since September.

Sales totaled 101,001 units, said Chrysler, which increased its market share to 10% from 9.9% in March 2008, despite a reduction of 44% in fleet sales.

Unexpectedly strong industry sales in March pushed the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate to around 10 million, said Chrysler president Jim Press, on a sales call with analysts and reporters.

"We were all a little bit surprised at stronger than anticipated SAAR," he said. "The improvement in the SAAR is maybe a little teeny sign of light, a little seedling you have to nourish. It isn't continuing to be worse, worse, worse. "

Chrysler ended the month with an inventory of 349,612 units, or an 87-day supply, down 17% from a year earlier.