US car sales fall in March: discounts rise on unsold cars

The U.S. auto industry turned in an underwhelming performance in March as sales disappointed despite rising discounts. The industry reported sales of 1.56 million vehicles for the month, down 1.6% from a year earlier, amid increasing inventories of unsold vehicles, especially of small cars. In the face of declining sales, now it’s up to automakers to see if they can pare production of slow-selling models and reduce the profit-crushing practice of having to offer heavy discounts to clear out the backlog. Sales incentives rose 13.4% in March, compared to a year earlier, to an average of $3,511 per vehicle.

Analysts say that going forward we’ll see automakers likely cut production to manage inventories and to not go out of control with incentives. Overall, General Motors, the largest seller of U.S. vehicles,recorded a 1.5% sales increase but missed expectations of a much larger uptick. The company’s inventory level rose to 98 days supply, up from 71 days a year earlier and symbolizing the industry’s challenges. Ford Motor’s sales slumped 7.2%, though most of the decline was attributable to lower sales to corporate and rental fleets. Fiat Chrysler, which is aiming to reduce its fleet sales because they are typically less profitable than those to individual customers, posted a 4.6% sales decline. Read more

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