Ford dominated in the SUV sales gains for March, with both the Escape and Explorer both showing solid double-digit gains, and the Escape retaining its place as the top-sellng SUV in the country, eclipsing the Honda CR-V by more than 2000 units.
The Chevrolet Equinox retained its reliable third-place ranking, with sales up a modest 4.7 percent. Despite an all-new design that's been on-sale for a few months, Toyota RAV4 sales declined 5.1 percent compared to March 2012. The Jeep Grand Cherokee was down 10 percent, with many customers likely holding out for the thoroughly-refreshed 2014 model.
The only Ford model that didn't see a significant gain for March was the Edge, which tumbled 13 percent compared to March 2012. The Toyota Highlander held on to its 10th place rating, out-selling the Kia Sorento, which received a recent early-release redesign for the 2014 model year.
1. Ford Escape - 28,934, Up 27.6 Percent
The Escape retains its first-place ranking for the third consecutive month of the year, winning over buyers with its broad selection of trim levels and powertrains. A series of recalls on 1.6-liter EcoBoost models briefly slowed sales momentum in the latter part of 2012, but Ford's prompt response and proactive approach seems to have paid off in customer reassurance and satisfaction.
2. Honda CR-V - 26,897, Down 12.9 Percent
The former SUV sales king is down, but not out. The Escape and RAV4 have been in a nearly neck-and-neck horse race for more than a year, and it's not improbable that the CR-V could re-take the lead in the months ahead. Nonetheless, March 2013 sales were down 12.9 percent over March last year. However, the CR-V did widen its lead over the Chevy Equinox, which came within 20 units of the CR-V in February.
3. Chevrolet Equinox - 20,997, Up 4.7 Percent
While the Escape and CR-V perpetually battle it out for first and second place, the Equinox has held a consistently reliable third place since the start of 2013, and the better part of 2012. Although down nearly 8000 units from the Escape, it's Chevrolet's best-selling SUV, and if combined with sales of its sibling GMC Terrain, would have out-sold the Escape by more than 500 units.
4. Ford Explorer - 17,509, Up 32.5 Percent
The Explorer once again tops the midsize segment, with a decisive lead over the Grand Cherokee by nearly 5000 units. Although the three-row Dodge Durango may seem like a more logical competitor to the Grand Cherokee, Durango sales are nowhere close, selling only 5441 units for the month. However, with an impressively thorough 2014 refresh shown at the New York show, the Durango could become a contender, but has a lot of ground to make up.
5. Toyota RAV4 - 16,474, Down 5.1 Percent
Despite a splashy Super Bowl campaign featuring Kaley Cuoco promoting the new 2013 RAV4, Toyota's redesigned compact SUV doesn't seem to have hit its sales stride yet, with sales down 5.1 percent from a year ago. With packaging and specifications that closely mirror its arch-rival Honda CR-V, Toyota is clearly gunning for sales volume, but has a ways to go until it's a solid top-three player.
6. Nissan Rogue - 15,381, Down 9.4 Percent
Although the Nissan Rogue is starting to show its age, and its once-fresh styling is starting to look a little staid, it continues to be a consistent fixture on the top 10 list. Once noted for its impressive fuel economy, the Rogue is starting to lag the class leaders, which have become significantly more fuel-efficient as the new models are introduced. Sales are down 9.4 percent compared to last March.
7. Jeep Wrangler - 12,901 Up 3 Percent
The Jeep Wrangler needs no explanation, being the spiritual granddaddy of nearly every SUV on the road today. And for a vehicle that is outwardly quite Spartan and basic, and not that cheap, its seventh-place ranking for the month is nothing to sneer at. Sales were up a modest 3 percent for March 2013, out-selling its city-slicker cousin Grand Cherokee by 272 units for the month.
8. Jeep Grand Cherokee - 12,629, Down 10 Percent
The Grand Cherokee may be down 10 percent for March 2013, but that's a big improvement from February, which saw a 26-percent decline, as well as a significant uptick in unit sales. Some buyers may be sitting on the sidelines awaiting the refreshed 2014 model, which brings a number of improvements, including an eight-speed automatic to all Grand Cherokees for the new model year, as well as a very fuel-efficient turbodiesel V-6 option.
9. Ford Edge - 12,237, Down 13 Percent
For somewhat of a tweener niche player, the Edge has performed respectably in overall sales over the last two years, handily out-selling the two-row midsize Toyota Venza by more than a three-to-one margin. But overall sales paled in comparison to the Escape and Explorer, and didn't see the double-digit gains of its Blue Oval kin, but a 13 percent year-over-year March drop.
10. Toyota Highlander - 11,387, Up 3.1 Percent
Once again, the Toyota Highlander anchors our 10th-place spot for March. Sales were up a modest 3.1 percent for the month. A thoroughly-updated 2014 model is due in late 2013, which could revive interest in Toyota's three-row midsizer. But recent redesigns of both the RAV4 as well as the Kia Sorento haven't lit the sales charts on fire yet, so it remains to be seen whether the extensive update will revive consumer interest in the Highlander.