Chrysler U.S. sales soar 20% in April, Ford declines 5%, GM down 8.2%

Sales of Chrysler vehicles increased 20% in April as the automaker recorded its 25th straight month of year-over-year increases, while Ford said its sales declined 5% for the month and GM sales fell 8.2% from a year ago.

All automakers are scheduled to report April sales today.

There were three fewer selling days in April 2012 than in April 2011, only the second time in the past 10 years that has occurred.

Several Chrysler models recorded their best April results ever or since 2008. They include the Fiat 500, Chrysler 200 mid-size sedan, Dodge Challenger muscle car and Jeep Wrangler SUV. Sales for the Dodge Avenger mid-size sedan increased 47%, its best month ever.

“This business is all about product and the quality and fuel efficiency of our current vehicle lineup has never been better, which is evident in our results," Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales for Chrysler, said in a statement.

Ford's U.S. sales for April totaled 180,350, compared with 189,778 last year.

Sales of the Fusion mid-size sedan increased 2%, while sales of the Focus compact increased 12.5% compared with the same month last year. However, sales of Ford’s subcompact Fiesta dropped 43.9% and the Escape SUV declined 20%.

Ken Czubay, Ford’s U.S. vice president of U.S. marketing sales and service, said customers are picking the Focus compact car over the Fiesta subcompact. Ford also is in the process of selling down its Ford Escape to make way for a new model and is increasing production of key models.

“We are eagerly looking forward to the increase in Focus production," Czubay said.

At GM, Buick, Cadillac and Chevrolet posted declines ranging from 8.4% at Chevrolet to 25% at Cadillac. GMC sales rose 4.5%.

Don Johnson, vice president for GM’s U.S. sales operations, said the company’s fleet sales declined 25% from a year earlier. Retail sales – those made directly to consumers by dealers – were flat with April 2011.

The silver lining is that sales of GM’s full-size pickups – Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra – rose 4.8% and 19.7% respectively.

Johnson said GM has raised its forecast for U.S. sales this year from between 13.5 million and 14 million to a range of 14 million to 14.5 million.

Volkswagen said its U.S. sales increased 31.5% in April, as it sold 37,525 cars and crossovers. The German automaker said the results were its best for April since 1971.

Toyota said its U.S. sales increased 11.6% in April as it sold 178,044 cars and trucks while Nissan said its sales declined 0.3% to 71,329 cars and trucks.

Industry sales in April were expected to increase from a year ago because of declining unemployment, pent up demand, improving consumer confidence, unseasonably warm weather and strong fleet sales, even though overall economic growth slowed during the first three months of the year.

“Over time we believe that strength in the manufacturing sector and stronger retail sales will continue to lead to more job creation," Johnson said. “That’s gong to help more consumers put the recession behind them, gain even more confidence and drive vehicle sales higher for both the industry and for GM this year."

But when asked if GM is losing sales to competitors such as Chrysler, Toyota and Volkswagen – all of whom reported substantial sales increases despite having three fewer days to sell – Johnson said it would take more than one month’s data to know.

“There’s no doubt the Japanese are back in the market," he said. "They are being particularly aggressive in the fleet market."

The U.S. Commerce Department said Friday that the country’s economy expanded at an annual rate of 2.2% in the January-March quarter, compared with a 3% gain in the final quarter of 2011.

Still, consumers spent at the fastest pace in more than a year, driven in part by higher than expected auto sales.

"We can expect the auto sales rate to stay elevated through most of the rest of the year, even as downside risks — like political and fiscal uncertainty in the U.S. and slowing economies in Europe and China — continue to loom," chief economist Lacey Plache said in a report last week. last week increased its forecast for U.S. industry sales for the year to 14.4 million cars and trucks, up from 13.6 million.

“The momentum built by the recovering economy and compelling product choices in the first quarter continued to fuel new vehicle sales in April," said Jesse Toprak, vice president of market intelligence for said last week in a report. Detroit Free Press

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