General Motors Co. said its March sales rose nearly 12 percent, driven by the strength of fuel-efficient cars and crossovers with highway mileage of 30 mpg or better.

Both Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group also reported strong gains in March. Shares of GM, however, fell nearly 4 percent after the automaker missed analysts' estimates of a 21 percent increase in sales, according to the Wall Street Journal. The broader markets were also all down ahead of the release of the Fed's minutes from its most-recent meeting.

GM sold 231,052 cars and trucks, up from 206,621 a year earlier. The strong sales of fuel-efficient models represents a big shift for the Detroit automaker, once known for focusing mostly on big, gas-guzzling trucks and sport-utility vehicles. As gas prices have shot past an average of  $3.90 in some parts of the country, consumers have been favoring smaller cars. AAA predicts pump prices will likely surpass $4 a gallon in the coming weeks, ahead of the busy summer traveling period.

The economic recovery and a deep bench of fuel-efficient cars and crossovers have been driving our sales for more than a year, but the combined impact has never been stronger than it was in March,  Don Johnson, vice president, U.S. sales operations, said in a statement. Since the last time fuel prices spiked, both the economy and GM's product portfolio are undeniably stronger.

The Chevrolet brand increased its sales 16.8 percent to 173,073 vehicles from a year earlier, with strength across the brand. Volt sales of 2,289 were 50 percent higher than December 2011, the model's previous best month. Cruze sales of 21,607 marked its seventh consecutive month of increased year-over-year sales.

Total sales at Buick and Cadillac were down, although retail sales for the brands were up. Buick's retail sales rose 5.7 percent, lifted by the all-new Verano and the 36 mpg LaCrosse with eAssist, while Cadillac's sales rose 1.9 percent on gains by the CTS and continued strong sales of the SRX and Escalade. Total sales include fleet sales to rental car agencies.

Total passenger car sales increased 22 percent, with small and compact cars forging ahead with a 62 percent gain. Compact crossover sales rose 47 percent and midsize cars likewise increased sales 38 percent. Full-size pickup trucks trailed behind their smaller cousins in sales with a more modest increase of 14 percent.

In New York trading, GM shares fell $1.09 to $25.67.