Seasonally adjusted annual sales of new light vehicles reached 17.75 million units last month for the best showing for any March since 2000, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association.

The strong showing for light vehicles (including any automobile, van, sport utility vehicle or truck having a manufacturer's rated capacity of one ton or less) was likely due to delayed sales caused by February’s severe winter weather and a boost from the first stimulus checks to hit consumers’ bank accounts following the passage of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 relief bill, NADA says.

“Despite the challenges posed by production disruptions and low inventory, we are very optimistic about new-vehicle sales for all of 2021,” NADA chief economist Patrick Manzi says. “Given the strong performance during the first quarter and our expectations for the rest of the year, we have increased our 2021 sales forecast to 16.3 million units.”

For first quarter 2021, new light vehicle sales, equated to a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 16.8 million units, represented a major increase from Q1 2020’s 14.8 million, during the first quarter affected by COVID-19. Q1 2021 sales represented a return to normal levels, with the reported 16.8 million just under Q1 2019’s 16.9 million units.

According to NADA, light trucks accounted for 78% of all new vehicle sales in March 2021, up from 74% in March 2020. J.D. Power research estimates transaction prices reached an average of $37,286 – just below the all-time record set in December 2020 – due to lower discounting and consumer preferences for higher-trimmed light truck models. As for used vehicles, tight new vehicle inventories have led to rising values, meaning higher trade-in prices for consumers. According to J.D. Power, that higher trade-in along with low interest rates translates to an estimated average monthly finance payment increase of only $5 for March 2021, to $595.

In other notable trends from March 2020, share of gasoline-powered car sales continue to fall, to 89% from 93% one year ago. Crossovers continue to lead all vehicle segments with a market share of 45.3% (up from March 2020’s 41.3%), while share for all other segments except SUVs declined by a combined 4.2%.