Ford, Chrysler US sales up in March

DETROIT (AP) — March was the best sales month for Ford and Chrysler in nearly six years, as buyers armed with tax refund checks were lured by flashy new vehicles and low interest rates.

Ford’s sales were up 6 percent and Chrysler’s rose 5 percent compared with last March. It was the best month for Ford since May 2007 and the best for Chrysler since December 2007, the same month the Great Recession began.

General Motors said sales rose 6 percent last month, while Toyota sales inched up 1 percent compared with a very strong March a year earlier.

Industry analysts estimate that total March sales reached nearly 1.5 million cars and trucks, a number not seen since May 2007. Total U.S. sales are expected to be up 3 to 5 percent over March of 2012. All automakers report U.S. sales through the day on Tuesday.

The strong numbers are another sign that Americans are buying cars in increasing numbers as their financial situation improves.

Alec Gutierrez, a senior market analyst with Kelley Blue Book, said the improving job market is boosting sales. The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell to a five-year low during March. Low interest rates are also making new-car purchases more appealing, Gutierrez said. The average rate for a 60-month new-car loan is now 4.12 percent, down from 4.52 percent at this time last year, according to Bankrate.com.

And Gutierrez says tax refunds may have also spurred purchases. The average federal tax refund this year is nearly $3,000, or enough to cover the down payment on a three-year lease of a Toyota Camry hybrid or a BMW 3-Series sedan.

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