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Top 10 Best-Selling Cars: March 2016

img943737711 1459537219872 jpg 2016 Toyota Camry | photo by Evan Sears

CARS.COM — So much for the ides of March. Amid still-low gas prices and steady economic strength, overall auto sales picked up 3.2 percent, according to Autodata Corp. Among the seven biggest automakers, Ford, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Honda and Nissan led the gains with big increases from trucks and SUVs. In the non-luxury product segments, subcompact and midsize SUVs boomed.

Related: Top 10 Best-Selling Cars: February 2016

March’s top 10 bestsellers all are February repeats, and all but two had sales increases. The lone declines came from the Toyota Corolla (down 8.4 percent versus a strong March 2015) and the Camry (down 9.3 percent). Camry shoppers had a lot of new alternatives, from a redesigned Chevrolet Malibu to a refreshed Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. All three rivals saw sales increases in March, while the Camry fell — and that’s despite higher cash rebates versus year-ago levels.

Here are the top 10 best-selling cars:

img277857177 1459540827856 jpg chart by Paul Dolan

The bump for some family sedans kept that segment relatively flat in March, as shoppers traded interest in the Chrysler 200 (down 67.8 percent) and Kia Optima (down 24.3 percent) for hot sellers such as the Hyundai Sonata (up 56.9 percent) and Chevrolet Malibu (up 33.3 percent). Trucks, meanwhile, found plenty of buyers as the construction market continues to strengthen. February housing starts hit their fourth-best month since the recession; it’s little surprise that in March, full-size pickups gained 8.2 percent, while utility vans added 27.2 percent.

It’s unclear how much of the overall sales surge comes from the elevated incentives we’ve seen since last summer. Prior-month incentives data typically doesn’t come until the end of a sales day, but J.D. Power and Associates hinted at a spike in deals. Thomas King, vice president of Power Information Network, noted yesterday that average incentives over the first quarter of 2016 amounted to 9.6 percent of MSRP. That’s up significantly versus Q1 2015, when they were 8.7 percent of MSRP.

Still, other economic data suggests shoppers are hitting dealerships not just because of deals. Unemployment is low, consumer confidence is high and shoppers’ investments have recovered some of the beating they took in January and February. Interest rates still are low, and the Federal Reserve’s current tone suggests rates will stay that way for months to come.

That means the good times still are rolling, at least for now. But J.D. Power notes some storm clouds: rising incentives, longer-term loans and record levels of leasing, and declining credit scores for some shoppers.

“Auto sales figures continue to post strong results,” King said in a statement yesterday. “But when you peel back just one layer beneath the surface, some worrisome trends are taking hold.”

Photo of Kelsey Mays
Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price. Email Kelsey Mays

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