US auto sales kept up the recent positive momentum in March, with automakers Tuesday posting solid advances as high gasoline prices spur buying of fuel-efficient models.
General Motors Company, the world's biggest automaker by sales, reported March sales of 231,052 vehicles in the United States, up 12 percent from a year ago.
GM touted sales of a record 100,000 cars and crossovers that achieve at least a highway rating of 30 miles per gallon estimated by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
"The economic recovery and a deep bench of fuel-efficient cars and crossovers have been driving our sales for more than a year, but the combined impact has never been stronger than it was in March," said Don Johnson, GM vice president, US Sales Operations, in a statement.
"Since the last time fuel prices spiked, both the economy and GM's product portfolio are undeniably stronger," Johnson added.
GM passenger car sales rose 22 percent from a year ago, with small and compact car sales increasing a combined 62 percent.
Sales of crossovers -- vehicles built on a car platform that incorporate features of sport utility vehicles -- leapt 47 percent and mid-car sales were up 38 percent.
Full-size pickup sales rose 14 percent, the Detroit, Michigan-based company said. Only two brands, Buick and Cadillac, saw total sales declines in March, but only because of drops in fleet sales.
Ford Motor Company, the number-two US automaker, posted a 5.0 percent rise in sales, to 223,418 vehicles, its strongest sales performance since 2007.
Ford said the fuel-efficient Focus was its hottest-selling car, with sales up 78 percent and setting an all-time sales record of 28,562 units.
Ford also pointed to consumers' pain at the pump for the improvement in sales.
"Rising gas prices continued to drive strong customer demand for Ford's fuel-efficient vehicles throughout March and the first quarter," said Ken Czubay, vice president of US Marketing, Sales and Service.
Chrysler Group, controlled by Italy's Fiat, said US sales surged 34 percent to 121,730 units, its highest level since March 2008.
"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, president and chief executive of Dodge Brand and head of US Sales, in a statement.
The March numbers marked the 24th consecutive month of year-over-year gains and the 10th month running of rises above 20 percent for Chrysler, said the smallest of the Big Three US automakers.
The Chrysler brand led sales, jumping 70 percent from March 2011.
Sales improved for all five of Chrysler's Jeep brand models, led by a 46 percent jump in Jeep Liberty sales, while Dodge brand sales rose 18 percent.
Fiat brand sales skyrocketed a record 642 percent on a 12-month basis. The Fiat 500, sporting Italian design and fuel efficiency, was launched in the US in March last year.
Among foreign automakers, Toyota posted a 15 percent rise in US sales, to 203,282 vehicles, one year after Japan's earthquake and tsunami disaster disrupted production.
Toyota brand sales climbed nearly 18 percent from March 2011, but sales at the luxury Lexus division slipped 2.6 percent.
German automaker Volkswagen, aiming to become a major player on the US market and topple GM from its global perch, said US sales jumped 35 percent to 36,588 units in March, its best performance since 1973.