April auto sales up, but pace slowing
Economy • Toyota, Chrysler rise as GM and Ford struggle.
Published: May 1, 2012 11:00AM
Updated: May 1, 2012 05:31PM
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Toby Talbot | The Associated Press Chrysler posted a 20-percent rise in sales. Its top sellers included the Ram pickup, Jeep Grand Cherokees and Chrysler 200 midsized sedan, which benefited from big rebates of $2,000 or more, analysts say.

Detroit • Toyota and Chrysler saw big U.S. sales gains in April, but they came at the expense of General Motors and Ford.

Automakers reported their sales Tuesday. Overall, they rose only a little above last April, and the pace has slowed slightly since February and March. But automakers and analysts aren’t concerned, noting that this April had more Sundays than last year and fewer cars are sold on Sundays.

General Motors increased its full-year sales U.S. forecast to 14 million to 14.5 million cars and trucks, up from 13.5 million to 14 million, citing strength in the manufacturing and retail sectors that will lead to higher employment.

Toyota said its sales rose 12 percent as its inventories finally returned to pre-earthquake levels. Chrysler posted a 20-percent rise in sales. Its top sellers included the Ram pickup, Jeep Grand Cherokees and Chrysler 200 midsized sedan, which benefited from big rebates of $2,000 or more, analysts say.

GM cited reduced sales to low-profit rental-car companies for its 8 percent decline, while Ford saw slower sales of its Fiesta subcompact as buyers choose the new Focus small car instead.

Ford sales fell 5 percent in April, hurt by trouble on several fronts.

Fiesta sales dropped 44 percent, a puzzling trend when gas prices remain high. The Focus is likely biting into some Fiesta sales, and it’s facing new competition from the Chevrolet Sonic and Prius C.

Ford Escape sales also dropped 20 percent as the company cleared out old models to make room for a new Escape, which goes on sale later this spring.

Ford also is hurting from the decision to discontinue its small pickup, the Ranger. Sales for the Ranger dropped 63 percent from last April, and the truck will soon be gone from dealers’ lots. Ford will be able to move some of those buyers into its larger F-Series trucks, but some may go elsewhere.

General Motors’ April U.S. sales fell 8 percent as all of the company’s brands but one reported big declines.

Buick, Cadillac and Chevy sales were down. Only GMC had an increase, and it was small, at 4.5 percent.

GM ended April with enough vehicles in its inventory to supply dealers for 79 days. That’s more than the 60 days considered optimal. The company had 121-day supply of big pickups, down slightly from March. GM is building up pickup inventory as it prepares to close factories and equip them to make an all-new model due out in 2013.

Chrysler’s sales rise is far better than the increase expected for the rest of the auto industry. The company’s top-selling Ram pickup saw sales jump 19 percent last month. Chrysler also was helped at the smaller end of the lineup. It sold more than 3,800 Fiat 500 mini-cars, four times the sales from a year earlier.

The company is forecasting an annual selling rate of 14.6 million cars and trucks, on the high end of analyst predictions.

At the end of April, Chrysler had enough cars and trucks to supply its dealers for 59 days.