Story updated with Toyota March sales and Ford estimate of industry sales.
GM (GM) said its eagerly awaited March sales report, normally released by 10 a.m. on monthly auto sales reporting days, would be delayed for several hours due to a computer systems issue impacting dealer sales reporting. Toyota (TM) said its March sales rose 5%.
Forecasters were estimating that overall industry March sales will post a gain in the mid-single digits. On its sales call, Ford estimated total industry sales would increase 4% to 6% to 1.52 to 1.55 million.
In morning trading minutes after the opening bell, Ford shares were up 44 cents to $16.05. GM sales were up 41 cents to $34.83.
Ford's March sales totaled 244,167 units, with retail sales up 3% to 166,030, the best March for retail sales in eight years. Ford Fusion sales rose 9% to 32,963, the best month since the vehicle was introduced in 2005. Fusion sales in the West rose 22%. Meanwhile, F-Series sales rose 5% to 70,940 and Lincoln sales rose 31% to 8,969.
"March sales turned noticeably higher mid-month and finished strong," said John Felice, Ford vice president, U.S. marketing, sales and service, in a prepared statement. "Fusion set an all-time record in March, as overall retail sales in the West continued to expand at the fastest rate in the nation -including California being up 32%."
Chrysler estimated the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate at 16.2 million, including medium and heavy truck sales. Ford put the SAAR in the mid 16 million range including medium and heavy truck sales. Jeep had its best month ever, with sales up 47% to 57,983.
Chrysler Group March sales totaled 193,915, the 48th consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains. Jeep's gain was the largest for any Chrysler brand. Sales of the new Jeep Cherokee totaled 13,796, while Grand Cherokee sales rose 26% to 15,940. Previously, the best month in Jeep's history was July 2005, when sales totaled 56,280.
Ram pickup truck sales gained 26% to 42,532, the best March sales in 10 years. Chrysler brand sales fell 23% to 26,140, while Dodge brand sales gained 1% to 60,575.
"We are entering the spring selling season on a high note as our Jeep and Fiat brands recorded their best sales months ever and Chrysler Group extended its streak in March to 48-consecutive months of year-over-year sales increases," said Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales, in a prepared statement.
Bill Fay, Toyota division group vice president and general manager, said, "Solid March sales pushed first-quarter industry results ahead of last year's pace despite one of the harshest winters on record.
"Toyota dealers had their two best sales weekends of the year late in the month, and we're optimistic that momentum will spring us in into April," Fay said in a prepared statement.
Volkswagen said its March sales fell 2.6% to 36,717 units.
-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.
To contact this writer, click here.