Tue 10:20 am: Auto sales flat for first quarter

DETROIT (AP) – U.S. auto sales picked up speed in the second half of March, automakers say, but not enough to rescue a lackluster first quarter.

Analysts estimate new car and truck sales rose around 2 percent over last March, to a total of 1.5 million vehicles. That would mean flat sales for the January-March period, a disappointment for an industry that has grown used to bigger gains.

General Motors, which had been scheduled to release March sales this morning including the Lordstown-built Chevrolet Cruze, said its sales would be released later than usual today because of a computer issue.

Ford’s sales were up 3 percent. Ford’s U.S. sales chief John Felice says demand picked up in the middle of the month. F-Series truck sales were up 5 percent, but sales of the Escape SUV were flat.

Chrysler’s sales jumped 13 percent in March, helped by strong demand for the new Jeep Cherokee and the Ram pickup. Nissan also outpaced the industry, with sales up 8 percent.

Volkswagen’s sales fell 3 percent.

More automakers will report March sales later Tuesday, including GM.