Automakers report modest sales gains in April

Michael Wayland and Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

April showers didn't deter consumers from driving into dealer showrooms.

Automakers on Friday are reporting modest, single-digit sales gains nearly across the board, as analysts expect sales to be up at least 5 percent from April 2014 to about 1.46 million new cars and trucks, which would mark the best four-month start for sales since 2001.

"We're going to see pretty strong month in April," said Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Alec Gutierrez. "No one manufacturer really stands out as significantly under performing or over performing the overall market average."

The strong start to the beginning of the second quarter has U.S. sales on track to hit 17 million for the first time since 2001, according to industry analysts.

As they have in recent months, sales of pickups and utility vehicles led the way. They are expected to account for more than 55 percent of sales in April.

"We're kind of in a familiar patter here, with really strong demand for light trucks and SUVs really propelling the market," said Mark Strand, Autotrader manager of market intelligence.

Low gas prices, higher consumer confidence and low interest rates all continue to drive auto sales, Strand said.

As of noon Friday, the Detroit automakers as well as Nissan had all reported sales gains between 5 percent and 6 percent compared to April 2014. Toyota reported sales were up 1.8 percent.

General Motors Co., the largest automaker in the U.S., is leading the way for automakers in April, with sales up 5.9 percent to 269,056 vehicles — slightly higher than some industry analysts expected.

Strong sales of the Detroit-based automaker's Chevrolet Equinox, new mid-size pickups as well as its luxury Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV, up 121.8 percent and 188.4 percent, respectively.

"We've all been bearish on Cadillac," said KBB's Gutierrez. "They certainly outperformed expectations this month."

Cadillac and GMC brands led the way for GM, with sales up 13.7 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Chevrolet also was up 3.4 percent, while Buick sales dropped 5.2 percent.

Overall, GM's trucks and crossovers posted double-digit sales increases in April, up 13 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

"At GM, truck and crossover sales have been strong all year, thanks to our increasingly deep and broad product portfolio," said Kurt McNeil, GM U.S. vice president of sales operations, in a statement.

The story was similar at Ford and FCA US, formerly Chrysler Group LLC.

Ford sold 222,498 vehicles last month, including an April record 62,730 SUVs. Ford utility sales rose 14.5 percent last month. Small cars continued to struggle, with Focus sales down 5.3 percent and C-Max sales down 15.2 percent. Ford said last week it will cut a shift at its Michigan Assembly Plant where it makes those vehicles.

"We had an incredible SUV month," said Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president, U.S. marketing, sales and service. "Really a breakout month."

Ford's sales gains were helped in part by strong demand for its new products. Edge sales increased 77.6 percent and Mustang sales rose 81.5 percent.

F-150 sales continue to ramp up as inventory of the new 2015 model builds. Ford said the popular pickup is sitting on dealer lots for an average of 20 days. Average transaction prices last month reached a record $42,600, an increase of $3,200 from a year ago, and Ford said 60 percent of truck retail sales were of more expensive premium models like the King Ranch, Lariat and Platinum.

About 50 percent of Ford's F-150 sales were of the new model.

Lincoln sales rose 19.6 percent last month thanks mostly to sales of the Navigator, which rose 36.4 percent, and the new MKC.

FCA US sold more than 189,000 in April, led by double-digit gains of 26 percent and 20 percent for its Chrysler and Jeep brands, respectively. Ram Truck increased 4 percent, while the automaker's Dodge and Fiat brands were both down 16 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

FCA US and Nissan were expected to lead all major automakers in terms of sales growth, both with sales increases between 6 percent and 9 percent, according to and Kelley Blue Book.

Nissan sold 109,848 cars and trucks in April, up 5.7 percent. The Japanese automaker's Infiniti brand increased 8.8 percent to nearly 10,000 vehicles sold. Its namesake brand increased 5.4 percent. Toyota sales rose 1.8 percent last month to 203,329 as the RAV4 and Highlander recorded their best Aprils ever. Hyundai's U.S. sales rose 2.9 percent to 68,009 last month, setting an April record.

April ranks seventh in terms of average sales volume per month over the past five years, just ahead of the quieter fall and winter months.

(313) 222-2504