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March 2010 sales: Up sharply compared to a rough March 2009

by Andrew Ganz

Although media days at the New York International Auto Show haven't quite come to a close, automakers are just now beginning to release sales data for March. So far, it's a mixed bag, with the usual suspects checking in with both strong and weak showings; Ford and Toyota have mostly recuperated to 2008 levels.

It's important to note that March 2010 sales are to be compared to those from March of 2009 - about six months after the industry took a general nosedive as consumer spending dropped sharply. Naturally, many automakers have posted massively improved numbers on paper thanks to a particularly bad year last year. That said, most automakers are getting close to 2008 sales levels again - with some exceptions.

Of the major multi-brand automakers, Ford saw an increase of 46 percent, while General Motors' remaining core brands saw a 43 percent increase in sales. When factoring in all brands, GM's increase drops to a less impressive 21 percent gain compared to 2009, while Chrysler faired much worse while being down 8 percent overall. Honda posted a 18 percent overall increase, including Acura. Nissan saw a 43 percent combined increase for its main division and Infiniti.

Toyota, rocked by various recall and quality scandals, still managed a decent 35.3 percent increase over last year's numbers for its Toyota and Lexus units. Toyota does not report Scion sales separately.

Japanese automaker Subaru and Korean automaker Hyundai both posted their best first quarters ever.

Overall, GM outsold all other automakers with 188,011 units. Toyota followed closely with 186,863 and Ford was just behind with 183,425 units.

The good
Acura increased sales 25 percent thanks largely to a 42 percent increase in MDX sales.

Audi March sales, up 33.5 percent, helped set company record as part of their best first-quarter in history - up 34.8 percent. A strong driver in Audi's sales increase was the A5/S5, which rose 59.8 percent of March 2009.

BMW saw a small decrease in passenger car sales, although its full lineup of X-crossovers increased sales across the board.

Buick's redesigned LaCrosse enjoyed a 236 percent increase in sales compared to the dated 2009 model, which helped push the brand's sales up 69 percent.

Chevrolet sold 17,750 Malibu sedans, a 16 percent increase, and 12,805 Equinox crossovers, a 182.3 percent increase. Overall, the bowtie brand saw sales climb 35 percent.

Chrysler sales were up 1 percent overall - although they're still way off of pre-crash 2008 numbers. The automaker saw increases for its Sebring and Town & Country.

After a particularly devastating March last year, Ford division pushed its sales up 46 percent. The automaker's mainstream Fusion set a monthly sales record of 22,773, a 79 percent increase over last year. And even though new models are on the horizon, Focus and Mustang sales both increased 57 percent over last year.

Honda division saw sales up 17 percent thanks to strong Insight, Accord and crossover sales. Its Civic Hybrid experienced rapidly diminished demand: Sales were down nearly 81 percent.

Hyundai - continuing to ride a wave of ever-increasing sales - says that it posted its best-ever first quarter and its best-ever March. Only a handful of the automaker's products saw sales decline, while those that increased - like the Sonata, Santa Fe and Tucson - increased sales substantially.

Despite lacking a flagship - the XJ is set to debut later this year - Jaguar saw its XF increase sales 12 percent.

Jeep has long been Chrysler's only real bright spot in terms of sales, and while sales were up 3 percent, they were still off of pre-crash figures.

Even though consumers tend to be shying away from luxury cars, Land Rover posted a strong 16 percent gain thanks to increased demand for its mostly-refreshed-for-2010 lineup.

Mercedes-Benz saw a 155 percent increase in E-Class sales for the month.

Mercury has continued to see surprisingly strong 2010 sale; aside from the Mountaineer, all of its products are up at least 21 percent this year.

Nissan continued relatively strong 2010 numbers with a 44 percent increase. Versa sales were up 105 percent, while Armada sales were a surprise with a 171 percent increase in sales.

Subaru also continues to shine. Sales were up 46 percent over an already strong March 2009; only the low volume Tribeca saw a decrease in demand.

Toyota's sales were mostly up across the board and with 36,251 Camrys sold, the automaker's mainstream sedan significantly outsold Ford's Fusion.

Volkswagen reported a strong month - up 40.9 percent, and pointed to strong sales of its TDI clean diesel models, with 85 percent of the Jetta Sportwagens sold being TDI models.

The bad
Things weren't pretty for Dodge. Only the Challenger posted increased sales over last March.

Hummer, hurt by news that the brand will be wound down, sold 294 cars in March.

Lincoln's MKS is down 15 percent for the year - a tough figure for the automaker's flagship consumer sedan. Its Town Car, which sells mostly to fleet buyers, is enjoying a 31 percent increase in year-over-year sales. Just 700 more MKSs have found buyers than Town Cars this year.

Pontiac still has a handful of cars in inventory, apparently. Just 109 units found new owners in March.

Not one Saab was sold in March - the first time the Swedish automaker has seen no new car sales since it was just coming to the North American market. Former parent GM did not supply Saab's US operations with any 2009 models and new owner Spyker just began production of 2010s. Inventories are essentially depleted until the Spyker-built Saabs reach showrooms within a few weeks.

Saturn sold 2,737 cars - mostly to fleet buyers.

Volvo, which had been riding a wave of strong sales, was apparently hurt by the news that Ford intends to sell the brand to Chinese automaker Geely. Sales were down 18 percent.

The numbers
Acura, up 25 percent to 11,722.
Audi, up 33.5 percent to 8,589.
BMW, up 3.1 percent to 18,060.
Buick, up 69 percent to 12,954.
Cadillac, up 36.3 percent to 11,639.
Chevrolet, up 35.2 percent to 133,165.
Chrysler, up 1 percent to 19,780.
Dodge, down 19 percent to 29,506.
Ford, up 46 percent to 159,367.
GMC, up 39.3 percent to 27,648
Honda, up 17 percent to 96,540.
Hummer, down 66 percent to 294.
Hyundai, up 15 percent to 47,002.
Infiniti, up 37 percent to 9,942.
Jaguar, down 16 percent to 983.
Jeep, up 3 percent to 24,393.
Land Rover, up 21 percent to 2,726.
Lexus, up 36.5 percent to 20,219.
Lincoln, up 19 percent to 8,693.
Maserati, up 59 percent to 189.
Mercury, up 26 percent to 10,486.
Mercedes-Benz, up 28 percent to 20,023.
Mini, up 0.1 percent to 3,610.
Nissan, up 44 percent to 85,526.
Pontiac, down 99 percent to 109.
Porsche, up 9 percent to 1,905.
Ram, down 11 percent to 18,944.
Saab - no cars sold.
Subaru, up 46 percent to 23,785.
Suzuki, down 72 percent to 2,246.
Toyota, up 35.1 percent to 166,644.
Volkswagen up 40.9 percent to 22,148
Volvo, down 18 percent to 5,237.