: U.S. car sales got help from an unexpected corner of the market

by | Apr 5, 2023 | Stock Market

U.S. auto sales showed surprising strength in March, thanks in part to sales to rental companies and other businesses and ongoing demand for vehicles despite rising interest rates and auto prices. March’s seasonally adjusted annual rate, or SAAR, was 14.8 million vehicles, Cox Automotive said this week. That’s down from 16 million in January and 15 million in February, Cox said.

Quarterly sales results for General Motors Co. GM and Ford Motor Co. F were lifted by truck and SUV sales. For Tesla Inc. TSLA, price cuts drove higher quarterly sales as well. The first-quarter sales pace of 15.3 million vehicles, however, was “well ahead” of the 14.1 million SAAR in the first quarter of last year, and the best quarterly SAAR since the second quarter of 2021, Cox said, pinning it on higher inventory levels and improved fleet sales. A year ago, auto makers had little inventory and put emphasis on retail sales, which are more profitable, Cox analyst Michelle Krebs said. “Fleet sales were next to nothing,” she said. As inventories ticked higher, albeit at still historically lower levels, auto makers “pulled the lever on fleet sales,” selling to car-rental companies, businesses and, to a lesser extent, the government, she said. Also surprising was “how resilient the consumer has been,” with high used- and new-car prices and rising interest rates pushing monthly payments higher, Krebs said. See also: An average new car will cost you more than $700 a month “Affordability is a growing issue for everyday Americans trying to buy new vehicles,” Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell said in a new study released Wednesday. New vehicles cost on average $47,713 in March 2023, compared with an average $35,794 five years ago. Then, unlike now, consumers also had more compact, cheaper models to ch …

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