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Auto sales continue to strengthen in March

March 22, 2012|By Jerry Hirsch
  • March is turning out to be a good month for U.S. auto sales. At this dealership in the south Denver suburb of Englewood, Colo., the familiar Chevrolet bow-tie logo is displayed on the grille of a 2012 Cruze sedan (foreground) with a 2012 Sonic sedan in the background.
March is turning out to be a good month for U.S. auto sales. At this dealership… (Associated Press )

Auto sales, already off to a strong start this year, look to log another big month in March.

Auto information company Kelley Blue Book said it expects U.S. new cars sales to top 1.4 million in March for an annualized selling pace of 14.6 million. That would make this month the best March for auto sales since 2007.

The month is traditionally strong as consumers cash in their tax refunds and use the money for car purchases, Kelley said.  Its analysts are noticing an especially high demand for fuel-efficient models because of the recent run-up in gas prices.

Market research company J.D. Power & Associates is forecasting similar sales numbers.

“Each month of strong sales brings with it increased optimism that the pace of growth represents a true recovery for the sector,” said John Humphrey, a J.D. Power senior vice president. “Barring any future shock related to geopolitical issues in the Gulf region and further upward pressure on the price of oil, we believe sales will continue on a solid pace for the balance of the year.”

After nearly collapsing in 2008 and 2009, the industry has become one of the strongest performing segments of the U.S. economy.

People replacing older vehicles, easing credit conditions, an improving jobs outlook and growing consumer confidence are aiding the industry’s rebound. 

Strengthening auto sales came amid a backdrop of a generally improving economy.

New claims for unemployment benefits fell again last week to 348,000, the lowest since March 2008.

Five thousand fewer people filed jobless claims last week than in the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday. The moving four-week average, a more reliable gauge than the weekly figures, also decreased by 1,250, to 355,000.

Volkswagen Group of America said Thursday that it will add 800 jobs at its factory in Chattanooga, Tenn., to increase production as it sells more cars.

And the Conference Board said its index of leading economic indicators rose in February in the biggest increase in nearly a year.

The index, which includes improving measures such as income and sales, jumped 0.7% last month to 95.5 after rising 0.2% in January and 0.5% in December. That’s the biggest increase in 11 months. It now stands at its highest point since June 2008.

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