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GM March US Auto Sales Rise 12%

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES General Motors Co.'s (GM, GMM.U.T) U.S. auto sales rose 12% in March amid strong sales of its fuel-efficient models. The growth was below expectations of car-shopping website Edmunds.com, which expected a 21% increase. Broadly, U.S. new-auto sales for March are expected to climb 17% from a year earlier and 26% from February, according to Edmunds.com. GM reported it sold 231,052 vehicles in March, up from 206,621 a year earlier and 10% above February's total of 209,306. Chevrolet sales were up 17% while GMC sales rose 12%. Total Buick sales were down 16% and total Cadillac sales were down 13%, though the brands both saw retail sales growth. Overall, retail sales increased 14%. Month-end dealer inventory in the U.S. stood at 713,008 units, up 6.9% from the prior month. "The economic recovery and a deep bench of fuel-efficient cars and crossovers have been driving our sales for more than a year, but the combined impact has never been stronger than it was in March," said Don Johnson, vice president, U.S. sales operations. Sales of the battery-powered Chevrolet Volt nearly quadrupled to 2,289--topping its December record by 50%. Last month, GM said it would halt production of the Volt for five weeks because of slow sales, the latest sign the high-profile car wasn't meeting expectations. March had 28 sales days, while the year-ago month had 27 sales days. Earlier Tuesday, Chrysler Group LLC reported that its U.S. auto sales rose 34% in March as the company reported its strongest monthly and first-quarter sales since 2008. Ford Motor Co.'s (F) new-vehicle sales in the U.S. rose 5% in March from a year earlier, the strongest growth for the month in five years, as high fuel prices drove demand for fuel-efficient models. Sales gains for Detroit auto makers have come amid an improving U.S. economy and increasing access to loans, which have prompted many consumers who put off car purchases during the recession to return to the market. GM shares were down 1.2% at $26.44 in recent trading. -By Tess Stynes and Nathalie Tadena, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2481; Tess.Stynes@dowjones.com

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