Domestic Automakers Report Strong April Sales

DETROIT (Detroit Free Press/MCT) -

Ford Motor Co. saw its April sales increase 18 percent while General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC each enjoyed 11 percent gains, bolstered by a strong stock market, rising home prices and many consumers’ need to replace old vehicles.

Cars sold well for Ford, up 21 percent, led by the Fusion. Truck and utility vehicle sales were both up 16 percent, as the momentum continues for the F-Series and Escape. The automaker had total sales of 212,584.

GM reported a 34 percent increase for Cadillac, 11 percent for Buick, 11 percent for Chevrolet and 7 percent for GMC.

“Car-buying conditions are strong and will continue to release pent-up demand,” Kurt McNeil, vice president of GM’s U.S. sales operations, said in a statement. “We’re very optimistic because GM’s market share is growing, the economy continues to move forward, and important car and truck launches are just getting underway.”

Toyota reported its sales slipped 1 percent from a year earlier. Honda sales grew 7 percent and Nissan was up 23 percent.

Last month is expected to be the industry’s strongest April since 2007, and economists from the companies expect the year to top 15 million sales. Even if economic factors remain flat or dip slightly, consumer confidence has improved this year on a series of positive reports on the housing market, jobs, manufacturing and some stock market runs.

For Chrysler, Ram trucks led the way and helped the automaker report its 37th consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains.

Sales increased 49 percent for Ram, 18 percent for Dodge, 2 percent for Jeep and 1 percent for Fiat, while sales fell 13 percent for Chrysler.

“Our sales last month were solid across the board, with seven Chrysler Group vehicles recording their best April sales ever,” said Reid Bigland, Chrysler’s head of U.S. sales and CEO of Ram.

Volkswagen, by contrast, saw sales fall 10 percent to 33,644 units. The company reported a 16.5 percent decrease in sales of its most popular model, the Jetta, and a 10 percent decrease in sales of its second-most popular vehicle, the Passat.

“While it was a challenging month, particularly in the compact and midsize sedan segments, we remain solidly focused on our long term growth strategy,” Jonathan Browning, CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, said in a statement.

Ford’s Lincoln brand showed modest momentum with a 21 percent increase, as sales of the new MKZ more than doubled as adequate quantities are delivered to dealers.

Sales of Ford’s F-series pickups, the most popular vehicle in the U.S., rose 24 percent to 59,030 units.

Sales of the Chevrolet Silverado rose 28 percent to 39,395 units, as the automaker prepares to introduce the redesigned 2014 version of the pickup truck and its sister, the GMC Sierra, later this month.

Sales of the Ram 1500 pickup soared 54 percent, while sales of Ram heavy-duty pickups increased 30 percent.

Inventory of GM’s full-size pickups, which is used as a gauge for the health of GM truck sales, fell from 117 days’ supply at the end of March to 103 days’ worth at the end of April. The company is currently selling the rest of its 2013 pickups.

The compact Chevy Cruze rose 21 percent to 22,032 units, but the struggling mid-size Chevy Malibu slipped 1 percent to 21,734.

The Chevy Equinox continued its streak of solid sales, rising 15 percent to 20,965.

April marked the first month of sales for the redesigned 2014 Chevrolet Impala. The company is still producing the previous version for fleet buyers, and calling it “Impala Limited.” Impala sales fell 27 percent to 10,943 as GM converted its plants to the new model.

Honda’s sales of 130,999 for the month included a record April for the CR-V, while the Pilot and Civic also did well. Accord sales fell 5 percent. The Honda brand was up 6.6 percent, and Acura was up 14 percent, for the month.

At Nissan, the volume Nissan brand was up 24 percent and the Infiniti luxury brand was up 10 percent, for total sales of 87,847. Leading the charge were increased sales of the Altima and Sentra, and record April tallies for the Pathfinder and Rogue utility vehicles. The Titan full-size pickup was down 34 percent.

Automotive forecasting firms are predicting that industry sales will increase by about 10 percent as total sales surpass 1.3 million new cars and trucks. That would translate into a seasonally adjusted pace of about 15.2 million for the year.

“We’re forecasting the best April car sales since 2007, and that’s consistent with the strong growth we’ve seen in the last several months,” said Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst for Edmunds.com. “Sales are almost back to pre-recession levels, so as long as automakers keep reporting their best sales in at least five years, we’ll continue to be in good shape.”

In April, consumer confidence rose to 68.1, up from 61.9 in March, according to the Conference Board’s consumer sentiment index.

“The irrepressible buying behavior of consumers is driving auto sales growth in 2013, as consumer spending remains remarkably stronger than the economy suggests it should be,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive. “If the current favorable trend in the stock markets and housing continues throughout the year, the automotive market may be poised for a breakthrough performance.”