March Auto Sales Sees The Big Guns Firing

by: Benzinga

By Brett Callwood

Tuesday saw many of the biggest auto makers in the world release their numbers, and the news was good for Detroit's Big 3.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Ford's (F) new-vehicle sales in the U.S. rose 5% in March when compared to the same time in 2011, which represents the strongest growth for that month in five years with high fuel prices driving demand for fuel-efficient vehicles.

Analysts had predicted a 4.8% rise for Ford, so the number slightly beat those predictions. Overall, auto sales in the U.S. are expected to rise 17% from the previous year and 26% from February.

Ford sold 223,418 vehicles in March, up from 212,777 a year ago and 25% above February's total of 179,119.

Meanwhile, General Motors (GM) said that March saw sales of at least 100,000 vehicles getting 30 miles per gallon or better, a record for the company.

"GM's strategic investments in four-cylinder and turbocharged engines, advanced transmissions and vehicle electrification have been very well timed," Mark Reuss, president of GM North America, said in a statement.

It would seem that the gas prices are driving car sales across the board, with consumers buying up fuel-efficient cars in March.

"The combination of credit availability, an improving economy, pent-up demand and even high fuel prices encouraging people to acquire newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles are all helping to drive industry sales," said Reid Bigland, Chrysler's U.S. sales chief.

Chrysler's sales rose 34% in March to 163,381 vehicles, compared to the same month last year. That represents Chrysler's best monthly sales in four years.

Nissan's (OTCPK:NSANF) March U.S. sales are up 12.5% to 136,317 vehicles, while Volkswagen (OTCPK:VLKAF) sold 36,588 vehicles in March, a 35% increase over this time last year, VW's best March since 1973.

"This shows the potential of growing consumer confidence," said Jonathan Browning, chief executive of Volkswagen Group of America.

According to Daishi Secur, Hyundai Motor (OTC:HYMLF) and Kia Motors shares are up 9.6% and 11.4%, respectively, in the first three months of this year, keeping in line with the KOSPI's gain of 10.3% in the same period. Meanwhile, Japan's Big 3 have vastly outperformed the Nikkei 225 with Toyota Motor (NYSE:TM) rising 39.2%, Honda Motor (NYSE:HMC) 33.9% and Nissan Motor 27.3%. The yen's weakening combines with US economic recovery and consumer spending rebound hopes to fuel optimism about a shift in car buyers' preferences in favor of Japanese cars.

"For the past six months, shares of Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors have been trading at 40% discounts to the global auto peer P/E of 9.9x. In contrast, Japan's Big 3 are picking up steam on production and inventory normalization, providing a reason why Hyundai and Kia shares are stuck in low gear in low valuation territory."

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