GM down 3.5%; FCA, Ford report modest gains in sales

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Ford Motor Co. on Tuesday reported their best April sales in a decade or more, while General Motors Co. reported a slight decline as it cuts back on its daily rental business.

GM reported a 3.5 percent loss in sales last month compared to April 2015, with daily rentals down 39 percent; Fiat Chrysler gained 5.6 percent; and Ford was up 4 percent.

As expected, sales from Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. are leading the industry, up leading all major automakers, with sales up 14.4 percent 12.8 percent. respectively. Others include: Toyota Motor Corp. up 3.8 percent and Volkswagen of America down 9.7 percent, excluding luxury brand Audi, which increased 5.8 percent.

The sales being reported Tuesday by automakers are in line with analyst expectations, putting last month on track to be the best April for U.S. vehicle sales ever. Analysts anticipate the industry to have sold more than 1.51 million car and trucks last month, a roughly 4 percent increase from a year ago that would top the April sales record of just over 1.5 million in 2005.

“We saw strong consumer demand in April, especially for pickups,” said Mark LaNeve, Ford vice president, U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service. “F-Series has moved past the quarter million sales mark year to date — the strongest start for F-Series in a decade, while Ford brand SUVs are having their best year ever.”

Ford’s truck sales rose 14.8 percent while its SUV sales rose 7.7 percent. Car sales, which have struggled, fell 12 percent.

The Dearborn automaker sold 231,316 vehicles last month, thanks in large part to continued strong demand for its venerable F-Series trucks, which rose 12.6 percent. Its larger SUVs, like the Expedition (up 46.7 percent) and Explorer (up 22.3 percent) also fared well.

GM reported sales of 259,557 cars and trucks, with its retail sales up about 3 percent last month over April 2015. Its daily rental sales were down nearly 18,000 vehicles.

“GM’s retail growth over the last 12 months has outpaced the industry by a wide margin because our redesigned large pickups and SUVs are hits, we made smart investments in new segments like small crossovers and mid-size pickups, and our momentum in the car business is accelerating with each new model introduction,” said Kurt McNeil, GM U.S. vice president of sales operations.

GM has grown retail deliveries year-over-year every month since April 2015 and retail sales during the last 12 months were up 9 percent, more than double the industry’s 4 percent increase during that time frame.

Buick, Chevrolet and GMC all experienced a 3.5 percent or smaller decline in sales last month compared to a year ago, while Cadillac’s sales dropped 28.9 percent.

Fiat Chrysler reported sales of 199,631 cars and trucks last month, a 5.6 percent increase compared with sales in April 2015 of 189,027 units — in line with analyst expectations.

The Jeep and Ram brands led the automaker with double-digit sales gains of 17.5 percent and 12.1 percent, respectively. Dodge declined 3 percent, while Chrysler and Fiat both declined 17.5 percent and 18.7 percent, respectively, compared to a year ago.

“Consumer preference for SUVs and pickup trucks continued unabated in April and helped to propel us to our strongest April sales in 11 years,” said Reid Bigland, FCA-North America senior vice president of sales. “Both our Jeep and Ram Truck brands recorded strong year-over-year sales gains last month.”

Seven vehicles set records in the month of April, including the Jeep Renegade and Jeep Compass, each posting their best monthly sales ever.

Through the first four months of the year, Fiat Chrysler’s U.S. sales are up about 18 percent compared to the same time period a year ago.

The sales make April Fiat Chrysler’s 73rd consecutive month of year-over-year monthly sales gains.

Helping increase Fiat Chrysler’s April sales were some of the highest incentives in the industry of nearly $4,000 on average per vehicle sold, up 25.1 percent from a year ago, according to TrueCar.

That compares to a 14 percent increase at GM, with $3,909 in incentives, and a 24 percent increase at Ford to $3,423. The industry on average was up 13.3 percent to $3,021 in incentives per vehicle sold, TrueCar reports.

“This is a metric we monitor closely as the longest auto sales expansion in the modern era continues,” said TrueCar Vice President of Industry Insights Eric Lyman. “The bottom line is that economic conditions remain favorable and there are still many consumers who need to replace aging cars and trucks.”

Both and Kelley Blue Book expected GM and Volkswagen Group to be the only major automakers to lose sales compared to a year ago, with single-digit losses.

“Even though Q1 ended with a relatively lackluster March, the industry still as strong as ever, and this month’s sales will only reinforce that strength,” said Jessica Caldwell, director of industry analysis. “Considering that April is typically the calm before the storm of summer sales, there’s every reason to believe that 2016 will be a year for the history books.”

Led by sales of pickups, sport utility vehicles and crossovers, automakers sold 17.47 million vehicles last year — besting the previous record of 17.41 million set in 2000 and posting a 5.7 percent gain from 2014, according to Autodata Corp.

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Staff writer Michael Martinez contributed