Ford and FCA saw total sales surge to their highest level for March in a decade, with utility vehicles pushing Ford sales up 8% while FCA’s Jeep brand propelled the automaker to a 9% increase for the month.

Overall, Ford’s light-duty vehicle sales for the month were up 7.3% year-over-year and 8% for the first quarter compared with first-quarter 2015, while FCA recorded an 8.2% increase for the month and an 8.9% jump for the quarter, WardsAuto data shows.

However, with two extra selling days in the month (27) compared with March 2015, the daily sales rate for Ford actually declined 0.6% while FCA managed just a 0.2% upward bump, according to WardsAuto data.

In keeping with the trend away from passenger cars, light trucks and utilities carried the load for Ford in March, up 3.5% on a DSR basis and 11.3% in total volume for the quarter to 434,650 compared with 390,499 through March 2015. Cars showed an 8.9% DSR decline and were up just 1.3% for the quarter at 192,195 compared with year-ago volume of 189,807.

Bright spots for Ford included the all-new Lincoln MKX CUV, up 74% for the month and 81% for the quarter, and its Ford stablemate, the Edge, up 38% for the month and 53% for the first three months of the year. The Transit commercial van also posted a big gain, up 41% in March and 57% for the year.

Lincoln recorded a 3.2% DSR increase with total volume up 16% for the quarter.

Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president-U.S. marketing, sales and service, hails the company’s performance despite what some see as a softening market.

LaNeve says overall industry volume was up 4% in the first quarter, with the SAAR estimated in the low- to mid-17 million range in keeping with the company’s projections. Ford expects sales will strengthen later in the year, similar to 2015.

“We feel very positive on the industry and for Ford for the year,” LaNeve says.

The movement away from cars and toward trucks and utilities continues a 6-year trend that LaNeve says is a good fit for Ford’s product mix and is an overall positive for Ford and its dealers.

Ford ended the month with an 80-day supply of vehicles, down from 87 days in February but up from the 68-day inventory in March 2015.

Jeep Keeps FCA Rolling

FCA saw another strong month from its Jeep brand, marking its 30th consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains. WardsAuto data shows Jeep posted a 6.5% year-over-year gain in March on a DSR basis. The brand was up 17.3% for the quarter in total volume. Jeep sales were led by the Renegade and Compass CUVs and the Grand Cherokee SUV.

Ram pickup sales were relatively flat for March with just a 0.6% DSR increase, but the overall truck brand was lifted to a 3.6% DSR by strong sales of its Promaster and Promaster City commercial vans, WardsAuto data shows.

Dodge saw a 2.8% DSR increase thanks to strong sales of its Durango SUV and the soon-to-be-discontinued Caravan minivan. Similarly, the outgoing Town & Country minivan was the sales leader for the Chrysler brand. The all-new ’17 Pacifica goes on sale this month, replacing the Town & Country, while the Caravan continues on the old platform at least into the ’17 model year.

FCA’s Fiat and Alfa Romeo brands continued to plunge in overall volume and daily sales, with Fiat off 29.5% on a DSR basis in March and Alfa Romeo’s DSR down 32.8%.

FCA finished March with an inventory of 644,474 vehicles equal to an 82-day supply, down from February when the company ended the month with an 88-day supply (673,494 vehicles).

bgritzinger@wardsauto.com