Auto sales rise 11% in 1Q on strong showing in March

U.S. auto sales rose more than 11% in the first quarter, as strong March sales far outpaced last year when coronavirus pandemic began

Automakers sold more than 3.9 million vehicles during the first three months of the year, with several major companies reporting March sales that nearly doubled from the same month a year earlier, according to figures compiled by Edmunds.com.

Kevin Roberts, director of industry insights for Cargurus.com, said retail sales to individual buyers were strong, but overall sales remain lower than pre-pandemic levels because of reduced fleet purchases.

When the pandemic started, he said, buyers pulled back and retail sales fell for about a month.

“I would say autos have been outperforming the greater economy from that point on,” he said.

But a shortage of computer chips is forcing automakers to cut production, and that could affect sales later in the year. Plus dealer supplies are tight and a lack of selection could make people delay purchases, Roberts said. Many others, though may want to buy immediately to drive rather than come in contact with others while traveling, he said.

Industry analysts and executives say the chip shortage is likely to continue until at least the third quarter of the year.

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