WARREN - A do-not-sell order and subsequent recall of some 2014 Chevy Cruzes that came last week - in time for what some experts say is the highest sales weekend of the year - took no toll on March Cruze sales, according to numbers released Tuesday.
General Motors reported that 26,521 Lordstown-built Cruzes were sold in March, up 14 percent over the 23,260 sold a year earlier. First-quarter sales of the small car were up 17 percent to 65,185 from 55,731 sold in the first quarter of 2013. Cruze remained the top-selling GM car, behind only the Silverado pickup truck's 42,247 March sales.
U.S. sales company-wide were up 4 percent in March, but slipped 2.3 percent for the first quarter.
General Motors CEO Mary Barra testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation.
The company is predicting "solid economic growth" in coming months, said Kurt McNeil, U.S. vice president of GM sales operations. "Our dealers continue to work hard to exceed people's expectations for customer care," McNeil said.
Locally, it is too early to tell if the string of recalls on General Motors products will take any toll on sales. Experts and local dealers predict the problems may have some effect on at least the short-term sales, but they said they worry little about potential long-term effects.
As of Tuesday, more than 5 million automobiles were being recalled by the automaker. About 2.6 million of those recalls dealt with an ignition switch problem that can cause the car to stall. At least 13 deaths have been linked to that problem.
In an unrelated problem, late Friday GM announced the recall of 172,000 Chevrolet Cruzes because the right front axle shaft can fracture and separate while the car is being driven. Then Monday, GM announced plans to recall another 1.3 million vehicles in the United States that may experience a sudden loss of electric power steering assist.
While customers have been raising questions about the recalls, Denny Denoi, general manager of Greenwood Chevrolet in Hubbard, said they believe the matter is being handled.
"They mention it, and we reassure them that GM is doing the best they can to fix the problem," Denoi said. "Cruze is a fantastic car. It's well-built locally. It's a great car."
Like the national March figures, harsh weather and the extensive media coverage of GM's recent problems are showing little effect on March sales locally, Denoi said.
"We sold more cars this March than last March," Denoi said. March 2013 new car sales at the Hubbard dealership were listed at 74. Dealer sales statistics for this March won't be released for at least another week.
A sales manager at Wollam Chevrolet in Cortland declined to comment about sales there.
Jessica Caldwell, a senior automotive analyst with Edmunds.com, noted that the final weekend in March typically is among the highest sales volume weekends of the year.
"So it's not an opportune time of the year," Caldwell said. She was speaking last week about the do-not-sell order GM had placed temporarily on the 2013 and 2014 1.4L turbo Chevy Cruzes that began Thursday. By late Friday, the manufacturer had issued a recall on the vehicles.
The Lordstown-built small car routinely leads sales of GM cars nationwide. The car also has been the top-selling new vehicle in the Mahoning Valley 10 out of the previous 12 months.
"The last weekend in March, I suppose, statistically might be one of the biggest weekends of the year, but let's face it, we have had extremely harsh weather, and hopefully we are going to rebound as the weather warms up," said Steve Chos, executive vice president of the Auto Dealers Association of Eastern Ohio, based in Liberty.
Chos declined to speak specifically about General Motors, but spoke generally saying recalls tend to have some effect on auto sales, at least in the short term.
"You can go back over the years and you will find various vehicles that were affected by problems and recalls. I don't believe it will (affect sales) in the long term. It all depends on how a manufacturer addresses the problem," Chos said.