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U.S. sales rise 2% in April; SAAR stays at 14.4 million

from Automotive News – full story here

DETROIT — U.S. light vehicle sales rose 2 percent last month to 1.2 million units, slightly above analysts’ expectations, as consumers continued to snap up new cars and other fuel-efficient models.

In another sign the U.S. auto industry continues a steady recovery, light vehicles sold at an annualized rate of 14.4 million last month. That’s up from 13.1 million a year earlier and matched March’s 14.4 million rate.

Still, the 2 percent gain marked the smallest monthly increase since July and reflected an industry struggling to sustain the increases in previous years as the U.S. market pulled out of recession. Sales rose 20 percent in April 2010 and 18 percent in April last year.

While the recent dip in gasoline prices helped spur sales, low inventories constrained deliveries at some automakers, said Paul Taylor, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association.

“New car sales reflect the patch of slower economic growth currently,” Taylor said. “By the end of May, we will know how much sales in the first four months of the year were a result of a particularly warm first quarter.”

Volkswagen Group set the pace with a 27 percent increase in April deliveries.

General Motors and Ford Motor Co. posted U.S. sales declines for April while the pace of gains slowed at Chrysler Group. Toyota Motor Corp. generated another double-digit increase.

GM sales fell 8 percent and Ford was down 5 percent. It was the largest decline for each automaker since August 2010.

Chrysler’s 20 percent gain marked its smallest since July. Toyota’s 12 percent increase followed a 15 percent gain in March, signaling the automaker’s ongoing recovery from last year’s natural disasters in Asia.

Nissan Motor Co. said its April sales were flat, The Hyundai-Kia Group rose 1 percent. It was the first time in 20 months that the Korean pair failed to record a double-digit U.S. gain.

Winners, losers

U.S. light vehicle sales have now increased 10 percent this year to 4.65 million units.

Among major automakers, Chrysler, Hyundai-Kia and Toyota have gained share this year, while GM, Ford, and Honda have lost ground. Nissan’s share of the market has remained flat.

GM raised its forecast for 2012 U.S. light vehicle sales by a half million units, to a range of 14 million to 14.5 million.

“We expect gradual improvement in the economy going forward,” Don Johnson, head of U.S. sales operations for GM, said in a statement. “Over time, strength in the manufacturing sector and strong retail sales will lead to more job creation. That will help more consumers put the recession behind them.”

Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. also came within 1,614 sales of outselling Ford in posting its sixth straight monthly increase.

“With consumer confidence improving, we expect to see sustained industry growth in the months ahead,” Bob Carter, general manager of Toyota Motor Sales, said in a statement.

GM fleet sales drop

GM said its sales fell to 213,387 units, with fleet volume down 25 percent. GMC was the only division to post higher sales last month.

Chevrolet deliveries fell 8 percent. Buick and Cadillac each dropped for the seventh straight month.

At Ford, sales dipped 5 percent, with demand off 13 percent at Lincoln and 5 percent at the Ford Division. Ford said its car sales dropped 11 percent, while demand for SUVs and pickups slipped 1 percent.

It was the first month Ford has posted an overall decline in U.S. sales since May 2011.

Chrysler said it sold 141,165 light vehicles last month, up from 117,225 units a year ago. Jeep and Ram truck brand sales rose 19 percent, while deliveries at the Chrysler brand jumped 56 percent.

It was the 25th consecutive month that Chrysler sales have increased.

In addition to new and refreshed models, Chrysler is offering some of the industry’s highest incentives. estimates Chrysler’s discounts averaged $3,071 per vehicle last month, down 6 percent from March but up 10 percent from April 2011.

Across the industry, incentives averaged $2,446 per vehicle last month, down 5 percent from March but up 6 percent from a year ago, TrueCar said.

The BMW Group posted a 6 percent increase in sales, with the BMW brand up 12 percent. Mini volumes dropped 11 percent.

Volvo said its sales dropped 24 percent. Its 2012 volume is now down 3 percent.

At Jaguar Land Rover, April sales rose 3 percent.

“We continue to see strength across the luxury sector with both Jaguar and Land Rover notching double-digit gains in the U.S. market,” Andy Goss, president of Jaguar Land Rover North America, said in a statement.

Shift to cars

The growth in car deliveries industrywide — 2 percent — lagged the 3 percent gain in light truck volume in April. For the year, car sales have climbed 13 percent while light truck sales have advanced 7 percent.

The spring run-up in gasoline prices has boosted consumer demand for cars and other fuel-efficient vehicles.

Ford said demand for vehicles equipped with EcoBoost engines jumped 77 percent in April. Sales of the Fiat 500 minicar hit 3,849 last month, and 2012 deliveries have reached 12,699 units, Chrysler said. Daimler’s Smart brand rose 64 percent.

Cars accounted for 54 percent of industry light vehicle sales in April, about even with March, but up from a 49 percent share over the past two years, Barclays said in a report last week.

Automakers started April with car inventories that were below normal — a 44-days supply, while truck supplies stood at a 66-days supply.

Easing credit terms, pent-up demand and a steady, though bumpy, recovery in the U.S. economy is giving a lift to new car and truck sales.

During the first quarter, new cars and light trucks sold at an annual rate of 14.5 million.

U.S. light vehicle deliveries fell to 10.4 million in 2009 before rising to 11.6 million and 12.8 million the following two years. The average annual sales total for most of last decade was above 16 million.

There were three fewer selling days last month compared with April 2011.

GM said April marked just the second time in the last 10 years that there have been three fewer selling days compared with the previous-year period.

John Paul Strong

John Paul Strong combines his two decades of automotive marketing experience with a team of more than 150 professionals as owner and CEO of Strong Automotive.

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