Chrysler U.S. sales up 34% in March image

Chrysler Group LLC, the automaker controlled by Fiat SpA said its American sales rose last month 34 percent to 163,381 cars and light trucks.

The average estimate of 10 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg was for a 31 percent gain.

“The combination of credit availability, an improving economy, pent-up demand and even high fuel prices encouraging people to acquire newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles are all helping to drive industry sales,” said Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales for Chrysler Group.

Sales of Chrysler’s 200 and 300 sedans each doubled over last March. Both cars have recently been revamped and have better fuel economy than previous models, which is attracting new buyers.

The Auburn Hills, Mich., based company said Fiat brand posted the biggest gain, with sales up 642 percent over March 2011 — the first month the Italian brand was available in America after a decades-long hiatus.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expect an annualized sales rate for March of 14.74 million vehicles, which would be a rise from last March’s 13.1 million sales rate. Analysts say pent-up demand, easier credit, more fuel-efficient product offerings and mild weather helped boost March sales.