Toyota, Chrysler see big April sales gains

Associated Press Modified: May 1, 2012 at 5:16 pm •  Published: May 1, 2012
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DETROIT (AP) — Toyota and Chrysler saw big U.S. sales gains in April, but they came at the expense of General Motors and Ford.

Toyota 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 and Chrysler 200 midsize sedan, which benefited from big rebates of $2,000 or more, analysts said.

GM sales fell 8 percent, hurt by new products and aggressive marketing from competitors. Ford sales fell 5 percent as demand for its Fiesta subcompact dropped. Many buyers opted for the Focus small car instead.

GM remained optimistic about industry-wide auto sales in the U.S. It increased its full-year forecast to 14 million to 14.5 million cars and trucks, up from 13.5 million to 14 million, citing strength in manufacturing and retail businesses that could boost employment. When more people have jobs, or feel good about hiring, they're more likely to buy big-ticket items such as cars.

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Here's what The Associated Press' reporters are finding:

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TOYOTA IS BACK

Toyota has fully recovered from its factory slowdowns after last year's Japan earthquake and Thailand flooding. It's got new products in the market like the Camry midsize sedan that are starting to regain market share, said Tom Libby, lead North American forecasting analyst for the Polk research firm.

GM, though, doesn't think one month represents a permanent sales shift. Toyota, VW and Chrysler all had relatively low sales in April of 2011, and some were aggressive in selling cars to large fleet buyers, says Don Johnson, GM's U.S. sales chief.

But Libby said GM will be under pressure from competitors all year as more new models come out.

"We have a situation now where every manufacturer is pretty much going all-out and does not have a lot of restrictions," he says.

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FORD SLUMP

Ford sales were hurt on several fronts.

Sales of the Fiesta subcompact dropped 44 percent. Besides losing sales to the Focus, the Fiesta is facing new competition from the Chevrolet Sonic and Toyota's Prius C.

Sales of the Escape SUV dropped 20 percent as the company clears out old models to make room for a new version which goes on sale later this spring.

Ford also is hurting from the decision to discontinue the Ranger small pickup. Ranger sales dropped 63 percent from last April, and the truck will soon be gone from dealer lots. Ford will lure some of those buyers to its larger F-Series trucks, but some may go to other brands.

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GENERAL MOTORS STUMBLES

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

GM said sales to rental car companies dropped 25 percent for the month. Retail sales to individual buyers were flat. Sales of the Cruze compact car, a big seller since its introduction in 2010, fell almost 30 percent last month. Lower sales to rental car companies hurt the model, but analysts also noted that Toyota and Honda have full supplies of competing cars such as the Civic and Corolla.

"There's no doubt the Japanese are back in the market," said Don Johnson, GM's U.S. sales chief.

GM is avoiding discounts to match competitors. For example, Toyota sells the aging Corolla compact for an average price of $16,917, said Alan Batey, vice president of Chevrolet. But people are paying an average price of $19,572 for the Chevy Cruze compact, he said.

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