General Motors, Ford and Chrysler post strong April auto sales

Automakers posted their strongest April sales since 2007 as many reported double-digit gains with trucks and SUVs leading the surge.

General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, and Nissan all posted strong gains in April from a year earlier. Hyundai posted a marginal sales bump, while Toyota was down slightly and Volkswagen was down more than 10 percent.

Truck sales were crucial to the success of the Big Three U.S. automakers in April, thanks largely to the improving economy, said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with Edmunds.com. Overall sales were the best for April in six years, according to Edmunds.

“A lot of this comes from housing, an increase in construction, and the economy recovering in general,” Caldwell said. “It’s also not just construction but people investing in businesses.”

Ford Motor Co.’s sales rose about 18 percent this April from last. The automaker’s venerable F-Series pickup – the bestselling vehicle in the U.S. for 36 years – rose about 24 percent in the same period.

Both General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group reported 11 percent growth in April. Chrysler’s Ram truck division saw sales rise 49 percent from a year earlier. Sales of GM’s twin trucks, the GMC Sierra and the Chevrolet Silverado, were up a combined 23.6 percent.

The GM trucks also got a boost from generous incentives, Caldwell said, as dealers are looking to make room for the all-new 2014 models due in the coming months. Ram is also recovering from low inventory when the heavily revised 2013 models initially hit the showroom, Caldwell said.

Improvements in fuel economy and low financing rates also pushed more buyers into sport utility vehicles and crossovers, according to Jesse Toprak, an analyst for TrueCar.com

“The American consumer generally likes to buy a larger vehicle, given the choice,” said Toprak. This was evident in several automakers’ sales sheet.

Sales of the Jeep Grand Cherokee was up 27 percent year-over-year and the Dodge Durango posted its best April since 2005, with sales up 65 percent. Sales of Ford’s Escape crossover SUV were up 52 percent, and sales of Chevrolet’s Tahoe SUV were up 55 percent.

Nissan’s all-new Pathfinder tripled its sales since April 2012. Overall, the Japanese automaker, which includes its luxury Infiniti division, saw sales increase 23 percent from the same month last year.

Honda said its U.S. sales rose 7.4 percent in April compared with the same month a year earlier.

Despite only a modest 2 percent increase in sales, Hyundai said in a tweet that last month was its best April ever. Sales of the Korean automaker’s compact Elantra jumped 45 percent, while its full-size Azera sedan was up about 48 percent.

Volkswagen posted the largest decline of any major automaker for April 2013, posting a 10 percent decrease in sales from April 2012 to April 2013. This broke VW’s streak of 31 consecutive months of growth.

“The biggest reason: Volkswagen doesn’t have a player to compete in the big truck boom we’re seeing,” said Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst at Edmunds.com.

But VW also has trouble reaching customers across the entire country, said Toprak.

“Their main problem in the U.S. is their reach as a brand is not as strong in the middle of the country,” Toprak said. “To continue such growth rates, they have to be able to go beyond the East Coast and West Coast.”

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