US sales at top automakers rise on improving inventory, Toyota struggles

(Reuters) -Top global automakers reported a rise in first-quarter U.S. sales on improving shipments to dealers, with the exception of Toyota Motor Corp, which continued to grapple with parts shortage, data showed on Monday.

General Motors Co, which replaced Toyota as the top U.S. automaker in 2022, posted a 17.6% rise in first-quarter auto sales.

“We gained significant market share in the first quarter, pricing was strong, inventories are in very good shape, and we sold more than 20,000 EVs (electric vehicles) in a quarter for the first time,” GM Executive Vice President Steve Carlisle said in a statement.

Vehicle production took a hit after the pandemic disrupted supply of semiconductor chips and other raw materials, hurting carmakers’ ability to meet the upsurge in demand for personal mobility. The companies have been trying to make up for the lost production ever since as supply chain snags gradually ease.

But rising interest rates and fears of a recession may play spoilsport in an industry where most vehicle purchases are financed with loans, analysts say, as they watch out for signs of plateauing demand. The average transaction price of vehicles, too, has surged over the last one year.

“Consumers are facing credit uncertainty as rapidly rising interest rates have created barriers to entry for even the most qualified buyers,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at auto research firm Edmunds.

GM said on Monday U.S. sales rose to 603,208 units in the first quarter from 512,846 a year earlier. Toyota said sales fell 8.8% to 469,558 vehicles, but added that inventory was improving.

Asian peers Mazda, Honda and Hyundai posted a rise in sales.

“Anyone looking for signs of a recession won’t find it in new-vehicle market, as a number of makers delivered record sales in first quarter,” said Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist at Cox Automotive.

EV leader Tesla Inc posted record deliveries but its shares fell on Monday on growing margin worries after aggressive price cuts.

Overall, U.S. new vehicle sales in March were 1.37 million units, with an annual sales rate of 14.82 million, according to data released by Wards Intelligence on Monday.

(Reporting by Nathan Gomes, Abhijith Ganapavaram, Kannaki Deka and Shivansh Tiwary in Bengaluru; Editing by Shilpi Majumdar)

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