High pump prices make mileage a top concern for vehicle buyers
U.S. auto sales roared through March, riding the popularity of smaller cars to a 12 percent increase for the month.With gas prices rising toward $4 a gallon, fuel efficiency is much on the minds of consumers. Compact and subcompact models combined are expected to account for 23 percent of retail sales for March, according to LMC Automotive, a consulting firm.Chrysler Group's sales jumped 34 percent on strong sales of Fiat small cars and Chrysler sedans. It was the company’s best month in four years.BMW Group reported its BMW and Mini sales in the United States rose 13 percent in March and were up 16.6 percent for the first quarter — the best first-quarter sales since its record performance in 2007.The company’s best-performing vehicles year to date included the Greer-built X5 sport activity vehicle, up 41.3 percent; as well as the 5, 6 and 7 Series vehicles. Sales of the 6 Series soared 1,050 percent from the first three months in 2011.Although Mini experienced a 3.6 percent decline in sales in March, sales were up 14.9 percent for the first three months of the year.“The first quarter record affirmed our increased sales momentum and shows that customers feel more confident about the future,” said Ludwig Willisch, president and chief executive officer of BMW of North America.“The year is still young, and BMW alone will introduce in 2012 more new and refreshed models in the U.S. than it ever has before in any one year, making us strongly optimistic about the months ahead.”BMW has begun a $900 million expansion at the Greer facility and expects to add 300 employees this year. It also will be adding a new model, the X4, during the expansion.General Motors Co.’s U.S. sales rose 12 percent compared with last March. Sales at Ford Motor Co. rose 5 percent as sales of the Focus rose sharply compared with a year ago.Volkswagen of America Inc. reported a 34.6 percent increase over prior year sales and the best March since 1973. Also, the company announced in March that it will add an additional 800 jobs at its Chattanooga manufacturing facility to meet the demand for the Passat, bringing the total employment increase in 2012 to 1000.Toyota Motor Corp., which has struggled since the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan a year ago, said March sales were up 15 percent. Sales of the Prius hybrid climbed 54 percent for the month.Mercedes-Benz USA reported a record March with a 7.7 percent improvement over March 2011. The first three months of 2012 is the highest first quarter volume on record, up 15.3 percent.Honda, however, went against the flow, posting a decline of 7.7 percent in sales.