April Showers Automakers with Improved Sales

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Most automakers reported Monday that they saw improved sales last month compared to a year ago, as consumers continued to open their wallets and splurge on new cars and trucks. Ford Motor (F), Toyota Motor (TM) and, more surprisingly, Chrysler all recorded sales increases of about 25% for the month, while market leader General Motors reported a more modest 6% gain.

Ford also managed to supplant Toyota as the No. 2 supplier of vehicles to the domestic market, despite generous incentives the Japanese carmaker has offered to revive sales in the wake of a series of safety recalls. Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford sold 162,996 cars last month, easily outpacing Toyota's 157,439.

Detroit-based GM reported it moved 183,997 vehicles off dealers' lots last month, including its orphaned Saturn, Pontiac, Saab and Hummer brands. Among its four remaining core nameplates -- Buick, Cadillac, GMC and Chevrolet -- GM said it sold 183,097 cars and trucks, a 19.7% improvement over the 152,997 vehicles sold during same period a year ago.

GM and Ford each said their sales benefited from introduction of new models, such as GM's Buick LaCrosse and Ford's Taurus, as well as so-called crossover vehicles, which combine the SUV-like versatility with better fuel economy and more modern designs.

Strong but Not Surprising

April sales were strong but not surprising, said Arthur Wheaton, auto industry analyst at Cornell University. One particular bright spot were sales of Ford's F-Series pickups, which saw a 42% gain. "Truck sales were very strong," Wheaton said, and that likely points to recovery within the construction industry, where the vehicle is a favorite.

With few new models to offer, Chrysler's 25% surge was particularly surprising. For the month, Chrysler said it sold 95,703 vehicles, up from 76,682 a year earlier. Passenger cars accounted for 32% of sales, much improved from April 2009, when they made up just 20%.

The Auburn Hills, Mich., automaker, run by Italy's Fiat, said sales of its hallmark minivans rose as much as 86%, while those of its much-maligned midsized Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger sedans, accelerated more than 200%.

Sales at Honda Motor (HMC) rose 12.5% on strong sales of crossovers, SUVs, and its Ridgeline pickup truck. For the month Honda and its luxury stablemate, Acura, sold 113,697 vehicles, up from 101,029 a year ago. Nevertheless, Wheaton said Honda's results were less than impressive. Compared to other car companies, "they have not been as successful picking up sales during Toyota's difficulties," he said.

Toyota Up Year Over Year, but Down from March


Toyota said strength in passenger car sales were led by its compact Corolla model, which rose 51% to nearly 30,000 units for the month. But sales of its iconic Prius hybrid also zoomed up by nearly 50% to 12,555 units. The world's largest automaker also saw notable sales increases of its RAV4 compact SUV, Tundra full-size pickup and Sienna minivan. Incentives, including zero-interest financing, free maintenance for two years and cheap leases helped drive sales at Toyota. Still, while sales were up over last year, they fell 16% compared to March.

Nissan reported overall April sales rose 35% to 63,769 compared to 47,190 units a year earlier. Among other Asian carmakers, Mazda reported U.S. sales rose 17.3% to 18,971 compared to a year ago, on strong sales of its CX-7 and CX-9 crossovers, while Subaru sales leapt 48% to 23,198 units last month.

A freshened vehicle lineup helped push Hyundai Motor's U.S. sales 30% higher last month. The South Korean automaker set a new April sales record of 44,023, spurred by a 57% increase in sales of its Sonata mid-sized sedan and a 171% rise of its Tucson compact SUV.

Sales at Hyundai's sister brand, Kia Motors, rose 17.3% to 30,036 on greater demand for its newly redesigned Sorento midsized SUV. For the month, the Sorento, Kia's first U.S. made model, sold nearly 8,500 units.

Among German makes, Volkswagen said sales rose 42% to 23,135; Mercedes-Benz reported sales of 18,228 vehicles, an increase of 25.1%; and Porsche said it sales slipped 6% to 1,747 units.
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