By Richard Read
Official stats on March auto sales won't be available until next week, but analysts are already predicting a bang-up month. In fact, the folks at Kelly Blue Book think March could be the best month for new car sales since before the Great Recession.
In all, KBB expects to see 1,450,000 vehicle sales in March 2013 -- a high that hasn't been achieved since August 2007. After adjusting for the number of selling days this month, that figure represents a 7% jump over March 2012. As exciting as that may be for dealers, though, analysts had been expecting this kind of growth, so the seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales remains flat at 15.2 million vehicles.
Why the increase in March? KBB's Alec Gutierrez suggests it's due largely to America's improving economy and the rise in employment figures. Car loans are also easier to come by these days, and let's not forget the tax returns that are burning holes in some consumers' pockets.
WINNERS & LOSERS: AUTOMAKERS
Volkswagen (OTCPK:VLKAY) is projected to be this month's big winner, with sales around 9.6% above March 2012. That said, VW posted mostly double-digit gains last year, so 9.6% could be considered a drop in growth. Also, Volkswagen's monthly sales volume is expected to clock in around 53,000 -- less than half that of other major manufacturers, meaning that a small uptick in VW sales can seem like a big jump.
Perhaps the more notable winner is Honda (NYSE:HMC), whose Accord has been a major hit with consumers. In all, Honda is expected to move 138,000 units in March, a year-over-year increase of 8.7%
At the bottom of the ladder we find Hyundai (OTC:HYMLF)/Kia (OTC:KIMTF), down 6.1% compared to March of last year. Though KBB doesn't offer any suggestions why the South Korean sisters might be off their game, it could have something to do with the EPA's investigation of their fuel economy claims.
WINNERS & LOSERS: SEGMENTS
At a national average $3.65 per gallon, gas remains expensive (though not as pricey as it was a year ago, when it flirted with $4). That fact, combined with the introduction of some great-looking small SUVs in recent months has made the compact crossover the best-selling segment in America. When March data rolls in, KBB expects those models to be up 8.4% over last year.
But the top segment of all should be full-size pickups, with an estimated year-over-year growth of 14.9%. That's in part because incentives on trucks are high right now, but it's also because the housing sector is on an upswing. And as we all know, more construction means more pickup sales.
In fact, the only loser, segment-wise, is the subcompact car. Sales are expected to ring in around 64,000, off 6.7%. That could be because folks are willing to spend more on slightly larger vehicles, though it may also be because incentives are better on bigger models.