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March auto sales leave Hyundai looking for more cars to sell

April 03, 2012|By Jerry Hirsch
  • The new Hyundai Santa Fe will be introduced this week. Hyundai posted record sales in March.
The new Hyundai Santa Fe will be introduced this week. Hyundai posted record… (Hyundai )

Torrid auto sales have left Hyundai Motor America with an unusual problem – where to get more cars to sell.

Its March U.S. sales rose 13% to hit a monthly sales record of 69,728 vehicles, the South Korean company said.

Hyundai’s results are reflective of roaring industry sales in March. Other automakers are reporting big gains and it may turn out to be the best month for the industry since 2007.

Automakers are saying that an improving employment outlook and the need by motorists to replace aging cars that they kept driving through the recession are fueling sales.

“The industry feels really strong,” said John Krafcik, chief executive of Hyundai Motor America. “There is a sense of increasing consumer confidence and the number of automotive purchases that are in some fashion using home equity is starting to rise again.”

That's left Hyundai with a short supply of its two best-selling cars – the Elantra and the Sonata sedans.

The inventory of Elantras is down to the single-day level and Hyundai has just a 25-day supply of the Sonata.

The company is “pretty much tapped out” of Elantras and Sonatas from a factory in Montgomery, Ala., that’s running at top speed, Krafcik said. It also will be hard to get more production of the Hyundai sport utilities made in Georgia at a factory owned by its sister company Kia Motors.

Krafcik said he’s now negotiating with company officials back in South Korea to get a bigger share of cars out of Hyundai’s global factories to help meet U.S. demand.

Higher gas prices are helping push Hyundai’s sales. The automaker said the average fuel economy of the vehicles it sold last month was 28.2 mpg, making it the best in the industry.

Other overseas brands are posting record sales results.

Nissan North America said its March U.S. sales rose almost 13% to 136,317 vehicles, a record for any month in the company’s history.

Sales of Nissan’s Altima family sedan rocketed 27% to 41,050, its best month ever. Nissan is poised to announce this week that it will phase out the model in favor of a redesigned Altima that will go on sale later this year.

But that reliance on one model -- Altima accounted for about 30% of the company’s U.S. sales -- could turn into a problem for Nissan, said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with auto information company Edmunds.com.

“That is definitely a weak spot; a car company’s sales should not ebb and flow based on the success of one model, especially when it has so many in its lineup,” Caldwell said.

Toyota Motor Corp. said its March U.S. sales rose 15% to 203,282 vehicles. Helped by rising gas prices, sales of Toyota’s Prius line of hybrid cars jumped more than 54% to almost 29,000 vehicles.

Chrysler Group said its U.S. sales rose 34% in March to 163,381 vehicles compared with the same month a year ago.  It was Chrysler’s best monthly sales in four years.

General Motors Co. said its March sales rose 12% to 231,052 vehicles.

Ford Motor Co. said it logged its best March U.S. sales month since 2007. Sales rose 5% to 223,418 vehicles in March. Its results were boosted by large sales to rental car companies and other fleet customers.

Volkswagen said it sold 36,588 vehicles in March, a 35% increase over the same month a year earlier and VW’s best March since 1973.

The only major automaker missing the March sales parade was American Honda Motor Co. Its sales fell 5% to 126,999 from the same month a year ago. It was hurt by sagging sales of its two flagship cars, the Accord and Civic.

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