BANDON, Ore. — March may not be the month for the industry’s return to normal after a harsh winter, but CNW Research maintained this week vehicle that sales are poised to make a significant splash this spring.

Based on data from the first half of March, same-store sales at U.S. dealerships were up more than 9.5%. Initial readings from the second half of the month did show a slight slowdown, but the market research firm did spot one encouraging sign.

“While later readings in the month showed a slight slowdown, the fact there were more shoppers being converted to buyers is encouraging,” wrote CNW’s Art Spinella in his firm’s monthly newsletter. “This came on a 9% increase in closing ratios vs. last month.

“In February, however, poor weather held back showroom visits, so a large jump is not expected,” he added. “A more realistic percentage is the 0.4% increase in floor traffic …”

CNW also reported a decline in subprime approvals, with approvals off about 5.2% and more than 11% vs. one year ago. “We’ve seen it before during the past six months: A rollback of subprime approvals as financial institutions allow their portfolios to stabilize with the new lower credit customers.”

Fleet orders also appeared to be normalizing in March, with the share of retail sales expected to slide below 60%. “This bodes well for the Detroit Three and Toyota since those brands constitute the bulk of fleet deliveries,” Spinella noted.

The research firm also reported improvements in its Jitters Index for March. Compared to last month and one year ago, the index showed a slight improvement in how consumers view the economy. “While that is not unusual after a rough spell of weather and cabin fever breaks, it’s a stage setter for continued improvements. We’ll see,” Spinella stated.

“It’s one of those months where not everything is coming up roses, nor is it crabgrass,” Spinella explained. “It may or may not come in March, but spring is definitely upbeat.”