GM Sales Rise, but Well Below Estimates

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New car sales at General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) rose 6% year-over-year in March to a total of 245,950 vehicles. That is up 10% from the 224,314 vehicles the company sold in February, but only half the sales growth estimated by Edmunds.com.

Except for the Chevrolet division, which posted essentially flat sales compared with March 2012, GM’s other divisions posted gains in the range of 11.6% (GMC trucks) to 49.5% (Cadillac). For the month, car sales fell 3% but crossover vehicles and pickups rose 31% and 6%, respectively.

For the first quarter, GM’s sales rose 9% year-over-year, with Cadillac sales up 38% and Chevy sales up 5%. For the record, Chevy sells more than 10 times as many units as Cadillac.

Auto website Edmunds.com forecast GM sales of 251,444 in March, so even though sales came in at a five-year high, the company’s growth was not as high as estimated. Part of the reason is likely that crossover vehicle sales pick up when buyers are more confident about the economy. Also at work are lower interest rates, which often can influence a buyer to choose a purchase based on a monthly payment that is roughly the same for both a small car and a larger crossover.

GM, Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) and Chrysler Group all reported multiyear highs in March unit sales today. Auto sales are on track for a total of 15.5 million units this year according to Edmunds.com. U.S. automakers got off to a decent start.

GM’s shares are down about 0.6%, at $27.64 in a 52-week range of $18.72 to $30.68. The less-than-expected sales growth is stunting the stock price today.

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