Easier credit, gas prices send buyers into showrooms

Apr 3, 2012

Loosening credit and a shift to more fuel-efficient small cars continue to drive automotive sales, according to the March sales forecast from Edmunds.com, an online resource for automotive information.

Mirroring other automotive research forecasters, Edmunds.com estimates that March sales will yield a projected seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 14.9 million units for 2012. The projected sales results would be a 26.4% increase over February 2012 and a 16.5% increase over March 2011. The firm estimates that retail SAAR will come in at 11.8 million vehicles in March, with fleet transactions accounting for 20.6% of total sales.

“After delaying purchases over the last couple of years, consumers are eager to jump into the new-car market,” said Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst at Edmunds.com. “Vehicle trade-in rates have achieved sustained highs in recent months, which suggests that consumers have decided that they’ve held on to their cars for too long. And with the average credit score for new-car buyers at its lowest level since the first half of 2008, the market is clearly becoming a friendlier place for all buyers.”

As fuel prices continue to rise nationally, so, too, is consumer preference for small, fuel-efficient vehicles. The market share of subcompact and compact vehicles is expected to climb 11% and 5.8%, respectively, from February to March. Midsize market share is also projected to climb 2.3% over the same period.

Chrysler’s momentum continued in March with year-over-year sales and market share poised to climb more than any other major auto manufacturer. Chrysler will sell about 34.9% more than last year, and its anticipated market share of 11.3% this month is a 1.5 percentage point jump over March 2011. Toyota, meanwhile, is expected to be the top performer among the Big 3 Japanese automakers, thanks to healthier inventory and favorable pricing. Edmunds.com expects Toyota sales to increase 22.1%, year over year.