skip to Main Content

First Cut: March motor vehicle sales shake off slower readings in January and February

Sales of motor vehicles rose to 17.5 million units (SAAR) for March after two lackluster months. January and February probably reflected exhausted demand after many consumers and business had to replace vehicles destroyed in natural disasters in October and November 2018. Additionally, adverse weather conditions in January and February may have interfered with sales and confidence was depleted during the partial federal government shutdown and immediately after.

Sales of passenger cars rose to 5.1 million units in March after 4.9 million in February. Light trucks — light trucks, minivans, SUVs, and crossovers — rose to 12.4 million after 11.7 million in the prior month.

Although rising gasoline prices can reduce interest in the light trucks category and increase it for passenger cars, that was not the case for March. The EIA price for gasoline has risen for eight straight weeks, up 41.5 cents per gallon from $2.276 in the February 11 week to $2.691 in the April 1 week. However, changes in behavior tend to start when the price is touching on $3 per gallon, and the present cost is still well below that.

With strong sales of all motor vehicles — and particularly for the more expensive light trucks category — retail sales for March should get a nice boost in total dollar value when the data is reported at 8:30 ET on Thursday, April 18. Rising gasoline prices will provide an assist as well, although prices normally begin to climb at this time of year as refineries change over to leaner fuel formulations for the summer months by the May 1 deadline.

Back To Top