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GM, Ford see declines as April auto sales ease

May 01, 2012|By Jerry Hirsch
  • Chrysler shows off the Jeep Grand Cherokee during the media preview of the Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place in Chicago.
Chrysler shows off the Jeep Grand Cherokee during the media preview of the… (Associated Press )

Strong gains in U.S. auto sales over the last six months eased in April, with General Motors Co.and Ford Motor Co. both doing less business.

Chrysler Group continued to log double-digit gains and import brands such as Volkswagen also did well.

Manufacturers said April started slow but sales gained strength as the month progressed.

Overall, the industry ran into dual headwinds caused by consumers pulling back and a calendar quirk.

April was only the second time in the last 10 years during which there were three fewer selling days compared to the same month a year earlier, according to GM.

GM’s sales fell 8.2% to 213,387 vehicles in April.

Ford said its U.S. sales fell 5% to 180,350 vehicles. The automaker’s results were hurt by a 44% plunge in sales of its smallest car, the Fiesta, and slower sales at its Lincoln luxury car brand.

Chrysler said its sales rose 20% to 141,165 vehicles.

Toyota Motor Corp.said its U.S. sales rose 11.6% to 178,044 vehicles.

Volkswagen said its U.S. sales of 37,525 vehicles in April, was a 31.5% increase over the same month a year earlier and its best April since 1971. The results don’t include the company’s Audi brand.

But the company did note a softening in the industry’s strong sales pace of the previous six months.

"There was more moderated retail demand across the industry…. It picked up as we went through the month,” said Jonathan Browning, chief executive of Volkswagen Group of America.

Still, based on higher than expected first-quarter industry sales and expectations that the U.S. economy will continue to grow, GM increased its full-year light vehicle sales forecast to 14.0 million to 14.5 million autos from 13.5 million–14.0 million.

“We expect gradual improvement in the economy going forward,” said Don Johnson, vice president, U.S. sales operations.  “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, gain even more confidence and drive vehicle sales higher for both the industry and GM.”

Jeff Schuster, an analyst at LMC Automotive, said several variables, including the timing of the Easter holiday, weather issues and fewer selling days -- some states make auto dealers close on Sundays -- affected the month's results.

But he doesn’t see the industry slipping back.

“Taking it all into consideration, we are holding the trend of a moderate recovery,” he said.

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