DETROIT, April 3 (Reuters) - U.S. sales of new vehicles in March at major automakers came in below market expectations, according to figures released on Monday, sending shares of General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co down more than 2 percent.
The news also weighed on car retailer stocks. The March sales offered the market a glimpse of the overall health of middle-class American consumers.
Car sales in America have risen ever since end of the Great Recession and hit a record last year of 17.55 million. Investors and analysts have been watching for signs that the current boom cycle has begun to wane.
Trucks and SUVs pushed sales at some major automakers higher in March at the expense of cars as American consumers continued to shun smaller vehicles amid low gasoline prices.
No. 1 U.s. automaker General Motors Co reported a 2 percent increase in sales to just over 256,000 vehicles, with sales of its Tahoe and Suburban SUV models seeing their best sales month since 2008.
But sales at Ford Motor Co fell more than 7 percent to 236,000 vehicles, with fleet sales to rental agencies, businesses and government entities down nearly 17 percent on the year. On a conference call, Ford executives said they expected the seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) for U.S. auto sales of over 17 million vehicles.
Analyst polled by Reuters expected a SAAR of 17.3 million vehicles for March.
Toyota Motor Corp reported a 2.1 percent decrease in sales, including a decline of more than 7 percent at its luxury Lexus brand.
Honda Motor Co Ltd reported an overall decline in sales of 0.7 percent versus March 2016, but said truck sales were up 8.4 percent.
Nissan Motor Co Ltd reported a 3.2 percent increase in sales and said sales of its trucks, SUVs and crossovers were up 26 percent and had hit record highs.
In morning trading, GM shares were down 3.8 percent at $34.03 and Ford was off 2.5 percent at $11.34.
Car retailer Penske Auto Group was down 1.5 percent and Group 1 Automotive was down 3.3 percent on Monday morning.
Reporting By Nick Carey; Editing by Nick Zieminski