U.S. Auto Sales: Chevy Volt sales up. Nissan Leaf Steady image

U.S. sales of cars and light trucks rose 13 percent in March, as consumers energized by an improving job market replaced aging vehicles and took advantage of cheap financing.

With gas above $4 in some parts of the U.S., buyers are leaning toward new fuel-efficient compacts such as the Chevrolet Cruze and sub-compacts such as the Honda Fit to save money.

Volt plug-in hybrid car had its best month ever in March with 2289 sold, more than double its February result of 1,023 and an increase of almost 50 percent over its previous best mark of 1,529 set in December 2011.

The fleet buying was only 5% of Volt sales.

The Volt outsold its current primary rival — the pure-electric Nissan Leaf — at nearly a 4-to-1 ratio, as the Leaf only moved 579 units in March.

However, Nissan says it is on track to double sales of the Leaf in 2012 to about 20,000 in the United States. The company plans to expand capacity to build 150,000 Leafs annually in 2013 in Tennessee, and is upgrading the 2013 Leaf to include fancier interiors and improved heating systems.

GM also claims that it sold over 100,000 vehicles during the month that have an EPA rating of 30 mpg or better.

The overall sales picture for the Volt is still complicated by GM’s ambitious sales target. Based on the record month, GM could sell close to 25,000 Volts in North America in 2012 if it keeps up a pace of 2,000 vehicles.