Automotive industry analysts expect automakers to report increased sales in March compared to the same month a year ago, marking the first time this year auto sales will grow.

Buoyed by continued strong SUV and truck sales in the U.S. as buyers continue to turn away from small cars and sedans, analysts also expect first quarter sales will be close to the 4.1 million units reported sold in the first quarter last year. Analysts differ on whether first quarter sales will come in higher or lower than last year.

Automakers will report March sales Monday.

Kelley Blue Book predicts automakers will report selling 1.63 million units in March, making first quarter sales the highest since 2000.

Forecasted sales growth in March could help the industry overtake the pace set at the same time last year, according to Deirdre Borrego, senior vice president of automotive data and analytics at J.D. Power. Borrego and other analysts pointed out that incentive levels in March will also be high, though.

This could pad the numbers, according to Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds executive director of industry analysis.

“If you only look at the sales numbers, it could be tempting to say that the industry is just as strong as it was a year ago,” said Caldwell. “But there are several areas of concern this year lurking just below the surface. Inventories have reached levels not seen in more than a decade, and incentives are rising. We’re also seeing an increase in loan duration and indications of an increase in subprime lending, both of which demonstrate sales aren’t coming as easily as they used to.”

Analysts expect sales growth out of one of the Detroit Three.

General Motors Co. is expected to report higher March 2017 sales than the same month a year ago. Analysts at Kelley Blue Book predict that company’s sales will grow by more than 9 percent.

Multiple analysts also expect Ford’s sales to dip by around 5 percent, due to a drop in the volume of fleet sales, according to Kelley Blue Book.

Analysts also expect Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV sales to grow by around 2 percent.

In February, automakers sold 1.33 million vehicles in the U.S., down from the previous year. Sales slipped slightly in January, too, following a record 2016 for the industry.

Trucks and SUV sales drove increases for some automakers in February, including General Motors Co., American Honda Motor Co. Inc. and Nissan North America Inc. Volkswagen Group also posted an increase, but slowing car sales hurt year-over-year comparisons for Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Kia Motors America.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau

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