CHICAGO -- General Motors, Ford and Chrysler reported their best U.S. sales performances since 2007 Tuesday as analysts predicted the auto industry as a whole would also rack up its biggest month in five years.

GM said it posted its best March performance since 2007 "thanks to a strengthening economy and new products" as sales rose 6% to 245,950 vehicles.

It forecast that total industry sales would come in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 15.2 million vehicles once all automakers have reported, which would be the fifth consecutive month with a sales pace over 15 million.

"Sales of smaller cars have been robust for some time," GM sales chief Kurt McNeil said in a statement.

"Trucks have improved in lockstep with the housing market and the strength of the crossover market signals that America's families are more confident about their financial health."

Chrysler said its sales rose 5% to 171,606 vehicles in March despite limited inventory of some of its best-selling models, including Jeep and heavy-duty Ram trucks.

It was the company's 36th consecutive month of gains in year-over-year sales, and the strongest sales for any month since December 2007.

Ford posted its best performance for any month since May 2007 as sales rose 6% to 236,160 vehicles in March.

Meanwhile, Toyota sales rose 1% to 205,342 units in March.

"The auto industry continued its string of impressive monthly results, and at Toyota we had our best month since Cash for Clunkers in August of 2009," said Bob Carter, head of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales, USA.

"A strong first-quarter close and increased consumer confidence continue to position the auto industry as a leader in the economic recovery."

The strong sales come after years of painful restructuring and the collapse of demand following the 2008 financial crisis, which pushed General Motors and Chrysler into government-backed bankruptcies.

Automotive website Edmunds.com forecast that total industry sales will rise 5.3% from March 2012 to nearly 1.5 million vehicles.

That would be the best performance in sheer numbers since May 2007, and a 24% gain from February.

Since auto sales vary significantly from month to month because of traditional shopping patterns, seasonal sales and product launch schedules, analysts focus on the seasonally adjusted sales pace.

"As long as the auto industry continues this string of 15-plus million (sales pace) every month, there won't be any shortage of optimism," says Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Jessica Caldwell.

"We're not quite back to pre-recession levels, but the industry is getting closer to a full recovery every month."

Mira Oberman, AFP

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013