It's the early days of a new month, and that means the usual onslaught of sales figures for the previous month - and for Q1 2001, widely expected by industry observers to be down notably on Q1 2000.

But it wasn't necessarily so. Many U.S. vehicle makers and importers had an unexpectedly good March and Q1. Here's a summary culled from manufacturer and importer statements.

Audi of America reported 7,428 sales for March, up eight percent over same-month 2000. It was the German company's best U.S. market March ever and a record first quarter with a 19,479 sales.

The TT Coupe and Roadster notched up 1,257 sales and the A4 was up four percent to 3,322, a record. The A6 was down about 700 to 2,225.

BMW of North America also reported a record first quarter with year-to-date sales of 46,764 up 9.3 percent on the 42,789 vehicles sold in Q1 2000.

March 2001 sales increased to 17,300, up 5 percent from 16,516 in March 2000.

This was the 30th consecutive month that BMW surpassed its own U.S. sales records.

However, the main gain was made by the U.S.-made X5 SUV which tripled sales from 3243 in Q1 2000 to 9,553 for Q1 2001. March sales increased to 3,651 from the 1,329 reported last year.

In contrast, BMW's March car sales of 13,649 were down compared to the 15,187 sold a year ago. Year-to-date car sales of 37,211 were also off compared to the 39,546 sold by the end of March 2000. Yet 3-series sales increased 17 percent.

Daewoo Motor America, understandably perhaps, had little to say about Q1 2000 results except this: "Considering the amount of press coverage associated with Daewoo Korea's restructuring and labour unrest we are pleased with the first quarter sales result of 15,829 units.

"With these problems behind us we are confident in our ability to grow in the coming months because our products give the consumer the right mix of features and value."

The terse statement was attributed to president and CEO D.J. Lee.

Combined Ford, Mercury, Lincoln, Jaguar, Volvo and Land Rover sales in March were 386,069 cars and trucks, down 13 percent from the same month a year ago when the giant group recorded its highest-ever U.S. sales month (441,701).

On a brighter note, the new(ish) Ford Escape achieved its best sales month so far with 16,232 deliveries.

Volvo and Land Rover both posted relatively good results in March with the Swedes achieving their second highest sales month (12,496) and Land Rover reaching its second-highest March sales (2,107), 2.5 percent up on last March. The British also crowed about boosting U.S. Discovery sales 12 percent compared with March 2000 but that was due to heavy incentives.

American Honda March sales rose 1.4 percent year on year to 106,347 while, ominously for rival U.S.-based producers, sales of Honda- and Acura-badged light trucks posted a nine percent increase to 27,425, a new one-month high for the company.

Calendar year-to-date sales of 283,564 rose 6.5 percent.

Acura sales rose 31.7 percent to a record monthly total of 15,982 in March, boosted by best-ever monthly sales of the 3.2 TL luxury sedan and the MDX SUV.

Acura year-to-date results were up 36.2 percent over the same period last year to a first quarter record of 42,050 sales.

Year-to-date Honda sales of 241,514 were up only 2.6 percent over a year ago. Accord sales of 37,647 rose 5.5 percent in March and year-to-date sales of 106,312 were up 18.9 percent.

"From an industry perspective, things appear to be cooling off a bit, but we're bucking the trend with some very strong new products," said Honda's executive vice president of sales Dick Colliver.

Hyundai Motor America claimed only record sales of 27,715 vehicles for March. This was up 26 percent over March 2000.

"March sales set yet another record for Hyundai and we expect our strong sales to continue," said vice-president of sales Robert Cosmai.

"Our product lineup is fresh and we expect sales of our Santa Fe sport utility vehicle will continue to grow as plant capacity increases."

American Isuzu Motors posted March 2001 SUV retail sales up a strong 18% compared to like-2000.

The Japanese automaker, which builds most of its range in the U.S., candidly attributed much of the increase to increased brand recognition driven by the return of advertising icon 'Joe Isuzu' and aggressive marketing support.

"Zero-percent interest, 60-month financing and other attractive sales and leasing programmes have greatly contributed to the sales jump," the company's statement said.

The Rodeo scored highest, with a 56 percent increase, for 6,463 sales. March sales of the Vehicross were up 27 percent and Trooper sales rose just nine percent.

Isuzu can't, of course, count the Passport SUV it makes for Honda and didn't quote any Q1 or March numbers for its new Axiom beyond saying sales were "positive and leading to increased dealership visits…"

With sales of 19,159 units in March, Kia Motors America also recorded its best-ever sales month, overtaking March 2000 by 51 percent. Year-to-date sales of 44,337 were 27 percent up from last year.

The Sephia compact sedan was the top model in March with 5,871 sales.

Mazda finished Q1 2000 well, surging 20.3 percent in March. This strong performance followed a nearly 19 percent jump in February and a 25 percent rise in January, pushing the company's first quarter total to over 23 percent ahead of last year.

March sales totaled 24,573 and the year-to-date figure was 65,761, the Ford unit's best quarter since 1995.

"We couldn't be happier with our strong sales performance in the first quarter of 2001," said president and CEO Charlie Hughes.

"Mazda is now the fastest-growing Japanese brand in America, which is a tribute to the appeal of our product line and our 'Zoom Zoom' advertising campaign to consumers."

The latest Protege saw a 40.7 percent increase in sales from a year ago, selling a best-ever 6,783. Millenia sales increased nearly 20 percent and the Miata roadster was up 6.5 percent.

Mercedes-Benz USA reported sales of 19,166 new vehicles for March 2001, a 3.1 percent increase over last year's record of 18,595 and the Germans' second best month ever.

But year-to-date sales dropped for Q1 2001, a decrease of 1.5 percent to 47,073 compared with the 47,788 vehicles sold in like-2000.

March sales were led by the new C-Class, which recorded its best sales so far with 4,822 deliveries. However, the aging E-Class posted 4,384 sales, a decrease of 6.1 percent from the 4,667 sold in March 2000.

More bad news: the M-class SUV recorded 3,911, down 14.2 percent from 4,556 in 2000 while the flagship S-Class decreased 7.6 percent to 2,594 compared with 2,806 sold last March.

On the other hand, the new CL-Class had its best March so far with 401 sales, a 95.6 percent increase. The SL was down to 209 units, a decrease of 66.8 percent.

The CLK coupe/cabriolet line was down 1.8 percent to 1,819 and SLK roadster sales declined 13.9 percent to 1,026.

Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America reported its best Q1 in history with 73,411 sales, up 4.2 percent over last year.

The Japanese also had their best-ever March with 27,431 sales, up 7.3 percent on March 2000.

The Eclipse Spyder (4,474), Galant (24,219) and Montero set Q1 sales records and the Eclipse Spyder in March also enjoyed its best month ever.

To cap it off, Mitsubishi sold its three millionth vehicle in North America during Q1.

"In this challenging market, closing the best first quarter in our company's history is strong evidence that our business strategy is working and that our momentum continues," said executive vice president and chief operating officer Pierre Gagnon.

"The upcoming launch of the Lancer in North America will help continue driving our growth."

Nissan didn't have its best quarter; instead it posted a two percent decrease in car and truck sales last month compared with March 2000. Consolation prize: sales were up 22 percent over February 2001.

The Sentra managed a good result, though, with 8,910 sales, a 95.2 percent increase compared with March 2000 and Altima sales increased to 16,292, a 16.1 percent increase on year-ago levels. Total car sales were up 10.3 percent compared with a year ago.

Combined U.S. sales for Nissan and Infiniti totaled 69,200 vehicles in March, a 0.5 percent decrease compared with a year ago.

Infiniti separately reported the best sales month of its 11-year U.S. history with March sales of 8,328, up 12 percent on last year.

The I30 achieved its best-ever month with sales of 4,763 units, an increase of 9.6 percent versus last year while the QX4 posted a best-ever March with 1,970, an increase of 45.1 percent over last year.

The flagship Q45 increased sales (to 592) for the third straight month, up 27.6 percent on last year. The all-new 2002 model on sale this month should provide even more of a boost.

The aging G20 declined 21.0 percent to 1,030 compared with last March.

Porsche Cars North America sold 2163 cars in March 2001, a decrease of two percent over a year ago, but the decline did follow record increases in January and February.

Still, the premium sports car marketers can take some consolation: year-to-date sales were up five percent.

Saab Cars USA sold 3,177 cars last month, a 41 percent increase over March 2000 (2,255).

That included 1,990 9-3 models, a 55 percent increase over last March (1,281).

The 9-5 had another strong month with sales up 22 percent over last March. Saab sold 845 9-5 Sedans (684 last year) and 342 9-5 wagons (288).

"We're extremely pleased with our strong start to the year," said vice president of sales Richard O'Kelley.

"In a first quarter seemingly doomed with uncertainty, our organisation responded with excellent results."

Subaru of America claimed its best March sales since 1986.

Bolstered by strong sales of the new 2002 Impreza line, the niche Japanese maker sold 14,530 vehicles, a two percent increase on the same period in 2000.

The '02 Impreza models, including the long-awaited turbocharged WRX, took total Impreza sales to 2,784, a 77 percent increase from March 2000 while Impreza sedan and wagon models achieved increases of 236 percent and 21 percent respectively.

The Legacy managed 7,266 sales, a decrease of 10% from 2000.

The Forester SUV was also down from 4,635 in March 2000 to 4,480.

Toyota Motor Sales reported its best-ever single-month sales of 156,444 vehicles, up 11.4 percent over last year.

The strong month closed out a record-breaking first quarter that totaled 398,523, but that was an increase of only 0.5 percent over Q1 2000.

"Amid the current mixed bag of economic indicators, strong consumer spending continues to drive industry sales," said TMS executive vice president and COO Jim Press.

"Clearly, the economic slowdown has not impacted all segments and all manufacturers."

Toyota recorded a best-ever month with sales of 135,729 units, up 9.7 percent, while Lexus enjoyed its best March sales of 20,715, an increase of 24 percent over the record set last year.

In what must surely serve as a continuing wake-up to Ford, GM and Chrysler, Toyota light trucks made a big contribution to March sales with 62,450 units, up 37.5 percent over last year.

The new RAV4 SUV led the light-truck cavalry with best-ever sales of 8,748, up 124.3 percent, with the Highlander mid-size model close behind on 8,215 units in its second full month on sale.

Full-size Sequoia SUV sales climbed to 6,201 units, the restyled Tacoma compact pickup recorded 14,478 sales, an increase of 15.3 percent, and the full-size Tundra pickup enjoyed sales of 8,970 units, up 8.0 percent.

In cars, Camry March sales increased just one percent to 36,436 while the Prius gas/electric hybrid sedan achieved 1,378.

Lexus car sales of 13,285 were up 75.4 percent and the new LS 430 luxury sedan hit 3,021, an increase of 192.4 percent. The new IS300 sport sedan posted "steady" sales of 2,714 units.

Lexus sport utility vehicle (SUV) sales were down slightly.

Sales of North American-built vehicles accounted for 60.7 percent of the Toyota and Lexus March total.

To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

USA Car and Light Truck Outlook - Segment analysis and forecasts to 2003

Global Car Forecasts to 2005