The war in Iraq is not having the devastating effect on US vehicle sales some feared, with March sales down less than predicted.

Total sales of cars and light trucks stood at a seasonally adjusted 15.7 million units, down from 16.7m in March 2002 (making it the third consecutive year-on-year fall), but up from 15.3m in February.

The big three auto makers were all down compared with the same month last year – General Motors by 3.2%, Chrysler Group by 3% and Ford Motor Company by 4.3%. Elsewhere, Toyota jumped 9.2% to a record monthly total and Honda rose 20%, though Volkswagen slipped 17%.

According to George Pipas, manager of the sales analysis unit at Ford, the war in Iraq has had little effect. “I think there’s a big difference between 9/11 and consumers’ response – which was a shock – and this event which we've been conditioned to,” he said. “It was barely perceptible.”

Earlier this week GM unveiled a sweeping April incentives scheme to try to keep demand buoyant [WAMN: 01-Apr-03]. That move has now been matched by new incentive offerings from Chrysler and Ford.

Data sourced from: multiple sources; additional content by WARC staff