NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Auto sales, a generally reliable U.S. economic indicator, are expected to come in flat in March but that could be viewed as a positive. March has one fewer Saturday in 2015 than in 2014, sales in March sales were strong and the seasonally adjusted annualized sales rate is expected to strengthen.

Kelley Blue Book estimates an industry sales decline of 0.3%, while Credit Suisse auto analyst Dan Galvez estimates a gain of 3%, but that is adjusted for one fewer selling day.

JPMorgan analyst Ryan Brinkman expects the seasonally adjusted annualized sales rate "to track a very strong 16.9 million, a 3% improvement from 16.4 million in March of 2014 and (up) 5% vs. the 16.2 million pace in February," according to a recent note.

Automotive News reported Thursday that "March could be just the sixth month since 2009 in which the U.S. auto industry posts a year-over-year sales decline, a sign the market is starting to flatten out after one of the longest stretches of growth ever."

Like the U.S. economy, auto sales have been gaining ground since 2009, when they hit a 27-year-low of 10.3 million. In 2014, sales reached 16.5 million, the highest total since they reached 17 million in 2006. The 2013 total was 15.6 million.

Kelley Blue Book expects industry sales to hit 16.9 million in 2015. For the first quarter, sales should total 3.93 million units, up 5.1% from the first quarter of 2014, for the best first quarter since 2007, the publication said.

"March is a tougher comp than Jan/Feb," Galvez wrote in a recent note. "March 2014 SAAR of 16.4 million included pent-up demand from very poor weather in Jan/Feb), so year-over-year growth will be more modest. We expect absolute sales levels to increase 3% year-over-year, adjusted for one less selling day in 2015."

Among the manufacturers, Kelley Blue Book expects Toyota (TM - Get Report) to show the biggest market share gain -- up 0.5% to 14.6%. Ford's (F - Get Report) market share is expected to decline by 0.6%, while GM's (GM - Get Report) market share is expected to be flat. "Toyota is off to a fast start this year with especially strong sales of its SUV lineup, which is up more than 20% in the first two months of the year," Kelley Blue book said. The Honda (HMC) CR-V is also expected to show gains.

Said Galvez, "Toyota continues to benefit from very strong fleet sales in March; we estimate that unusually high Toyota rental sales added 200,000 to Feb SAAR." 

"After SUVs, the most growth in the industry will sit with pickup trucks," said Kelley Blue Book analyst Alec Gutierrez in a prepared statement."Following the recent introduction of GM's mid-size pickup trucks, the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, overall truck market share has risen one full percentage point, from 13.6% to 14.6%. Even with the extra competition, sales of GM's full-size trucks are growing by double-digits."

The Detroit News reported Wednesday that GM is adding production time at its Wentzville Assembly Plant in Missouri to help meet demand for the Colorado and Canyon. The Wentzville plant recently added a third shift, the newspaper said. GM re-entered the midsize truck segment last fall.

At the end of February, supply of the Colorado was just 23 days, down from 30 at the end of January, while Canyon supply was 38 days, down from 51 the month before, according to WardsAuto data provided by LMC Automotive.

 

 

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.