Nissan, Hyundai set March sales records; fuel-efficient sales also boost Big 3

Detroit's automakers posted another month of big sales gains in March as consumers returned in throngs to dealerships, lured by the promise of looser lending and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks.

Overall industry sales were up 12.7 percent in the United States last month on volumes of 1.4 million units. That translated into a seasonally adjusted annualized selling rate of 14.4 million vehicles — down sharply from February's figure of 15.1 million units, but still way ahead of where the industry was a few months ago.

"This was the real litmus test for 2012," said Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst at, who said March's numbers were impressive — even if they fell a bit short of the most optimistic forecasts. "They show real strength on the retail side. … It's the best month we've seen since August 2007, back when times were good."

Once again, Chrysler Group LLC was the biggest winner. The Auburn Hills automaker sold 163,381 cars and trucks, 34.2 percent more than it sold a year ago.

"We're seeing strength across the board," Chrysler's U.S. sales chief Reid Bigland said. "What all of them have in common is dramatic improvements in fuel economy."

Chrysler increased its share of the domestic market from 9.8 percent to 11.6 percent, stealing sales from the likes of Ford Motor Co., which saw its share of the market slip to 15.9 percent from 17 percent a year ago.

But even Ford's sales were up 5 percent year-over-year on volume of 222,884 cars and trucks.

General Motors Co. posted an 11.8 percent sales increase on volume of 231,052 units. That gave it 16.4 percent of the market, down from 16.6 percent in March 2011.

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