U.S. auto industry aims for highest sales in 10 years

The rise in sales among U.S. auto manufacturers in March has put the industry on pace to reach its best month in 10 years.

The Detroit Free Press reported that sales for the industry are expected to surpass more than 1.6 million vehicles for the month of March, a number that would be a record high. Monthly totals have not been that high in more than a decade.

Two extra selling days compared to March of last year, fair weather and low gas prices are in part to thank for the boost in sales.

Ford Motor Co. outsold the No. 1 largest auto manufacturer in the country, General Motors Co., in light truck and car sales, according to the Wall Street Journal. Ford sold 253,064 vehicles in March, lifting their sales by 7.8 percent.

According to Ford, consumer demand for sport-utility vehicles in March reached its highest peak since 2001. The average cost of cars and trucks sold during the month rose as well, by $1,600, due to increased interest in pricier trucks.

Sales for GM were not as favorable, rising less than 1 percent for the month, and sales to fleet buyers suffered a tough drop of 33 percent. However, retail sales for the manufacturer did rise by 5.9 percent - a strong number considering that retail sales are more profitable than those of fleet.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles posted a sales increase of 8 percent, reported the Detroit Free Press. Nissan and Honda also saw sales growth, rising 12.7 and 9.4 percent, respectively. But not all automakers had strong showings last month - sales for both Toyota and Volkswagen slipped.

Yet while the Detroit Three posted strong gains, there is still worry on whether or not the industry will exceed the record-setting 17.5 million sales of 2015. Experts indicate that a plateau is on the horizon for the U.S. auto industry.

"Pricing performance on cars has been under pressure," said Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president of U.S. sales, service and marketing. "We see slightly more incentive spending on cars, but not anything that would be alarming."

The Wall Street Journal reported that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford and GM fell short of the sales figures estimated by analysts at Edumunds.com and Kelley Blue Book. Shares for all three car manufacturers fell during morning trading April 1.

Clearer numbers are expected later today, as some auto makers are still working to finalize the March results.