US automakers post best monthly sales since 2007

DETROIT (AP) — The recovery in the American auto industry has moved into the fast lane.

With gas prices at nearly $4, smaller cars like the Ford Focus, Nissan Versa and Fiat 500 flew off dealer lots in March and gave U.S. car makers their best monthly sales in almost five years.

Larger vehicles sold well, too, offering more evidence of growing confidence in the economic recovery. Small businesses, farmers and others took advantage of big promotions to buy pickups.

In all, Americans bought 1.4 million cars and trucks in March, up 13 percent from the same month a year ago. Edmunds.com said was the most vehicles sold since August 2007.

General Motors, Chrysler and Toyota all reported double-digit gains over last March. Nissan and Hyundai set company records. Only Honda Motor Co. reported a decline.

If car sales stay at the same rate as March, they would end the year at 14.4 million, up from 12.8 million in 2011. While that’s still below the 17 million of the booming mid-2000s, it’s far higher than the industry’s downturn in 2009, when 10.6 million vehicles were sold.

Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry analysis at car buying site TrueCar.com, expects continued strong sales this year, thanks to compelling new products, improvements in consumer confidence and the stock market and low interest rates.

“The good news is that the recovery has legs,” he said. He expects total sales of 14.5 million in 2012.

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