Ford Motor Co. had its strongest March car sales in five years, driven by strong demand across the product line by but mostly by a spike in sales for higher fuel-efficiency vehicles, such as the Fusion, Focus and Edge cars and F-Series trucks with EcoBoost, the company reported Tuesday.

Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford sold 223,418 vehicles in March, a 5 percent gain over the same prior year period. The Fusion, Focus and Edge all had their best ever March sales and more than 40 percent of F-150s were sold with EcoBoost, Ford's fuel saving technology. Retail, non-fleet sales rose 11 percent for the month.

First-quarter sales for Ford were up 9 percent compared with the same period in 2011 with a total of 539,247 cars sold.

Rising gas prices continued to drive strong customer demand for Ford's fuel-efficient vehicles throughout March and the first quarter, Ken Czubay, Ford vice president, U.S. marketing, sales and service, said.

Sales of the Ford's sub-compact starlet, the Fiesta, dropped 33.6 percent from 2011 to 6,502, while the larger Fusion, Focus and Taurus all had gains. However, the Fiesta's drop in sales is largely due to the fact that the Ford Focus was transitioning to a new model in March 2011, and Fiesta sales were higher at that time relative to the old Focus, a Ford spokesman said.

Lincoln sales were also up slightly for March, increasing 3.6 percent over the year before.

For the first quarter, the Ford Focus was the best-selling car in the company's lineup, with 66,043 Focuses sold, a 78 percent increase. SUV sales were also up in the first quarter, and the Ford Escape increased sales 5 percent, the strongest quarter ever for the vehicle. Overall, Ford truck sales were up 11 percent in the first quarter, and F-Series sales were up 14 percent.

Shares rose one cent to $12.63 in midday trading.