DETROIT (AP) -- America is getting back to work, and it needs pickup trucks.
Strong truck demand in March drove U.S. auto sales to their highest monthly total since August 2007, as everyone from oil and gas producers to local home builders raced to replace the aging trucks they held onto during the recession. Overall auto sales rose 3.4 percent from March of last year.
March is typically a good month for the auto industry. Many car buyers put their tax refund checks toward a down payment. And Japanese automakers, whose fiscal year ends in March, often juice sales with big incentives to end the year on a high note.
But this year had additional incentives for buyers. Fuel prices ended the month lower than a year ago. The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell to a five-year low during March. And the stock market -- which is a strong predictor of auto sales -- closed the first quarter with the S&P 500 at an all-time high.
Pickup trucks were the big drivers in March. GM, Ford and Chrysler sold a total of 154,722 full-size pickups, up 14 percent from a year ago. It would be the third straight month that pickup sales have outpaced overall industry sales.
Total sales in March reached 1.45 million, the highest monthly total for the industry since August 2007, according to AutoData. Pickup truck sales should keep increasing through this year and at least into early next year, said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for LMC Automotive, a Detroit-area forecasting firm.
Things look so good that some analysts think automakers will have to increase production and hire more workers to keep up.