GM and Ford April sales drop, as Chrysler's rise

(MoneyWatch) Both General Motors (GM) and Ford (F) reported today that April sales were down from one year ago as Chrysler continued its string of strong results with a 20 percent gain. Overall, sales were expected to continue their strong first quarter trend once all companies had reported April results.

GM sales totaled 213,387, down 8 percent from April 2011. But the company said this largely resulted from a 25 percent decline in fleet sales because of the timing of delivery to rental companies. Retail sales to consumers remained about even with a year ago.

Bright spots for GM included sales for its new subcompact Chevrolet Sonic, up 38 percent from year-ago sales of the Aveo model it replaced. Sales for the Cadillac CTS sedan rose 7 percent and Chevrolet Silverado pickups sold 5 percent more than last year. GM did not immediately discuss its market share. But analysts expect GM's share, while still leading all companies, to be about 17.5 percent vs. 20.1% a year ago.

Results for Ford

Meanwhile, April U.S. sales for Ford Motor Co. declined five percent versus a year earlier, the company reported today. Ford said its April sales totaled 180,350 in April, compared with 189,778 last year.

Within that overall picture, the fuel-thrifty Fusion mid-size sedan sold 21,610, an April record. And sales of the F-Series pickup rose 4 percent to 47,453, the best April sales since 2007.

Overall, Ford cut back its incentive spending by nearly 10 percent from March to $2,558 per vehicle in April, according to the web site TrueCar.com. Cutting rebates and other incentives tends to improve profitability. Ford did not immediately discuss its market share, but analysts expected it to be similar to its first quarter 15.2 percent compared with 16.4 in April 2011.

Part of the market share loss for both Ford and GM stems from resurgent sales for both Toyota and Nissan, which in April 2011 were suffering an inventory pinch after the March Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Toyota sales in April were up 11.6 percent over the previous year.

Strong sales for Chrysler

Earlier today, Chrysler Group reported its best April sales results since 2008, up 20 percent from a year earlier. Total April sales for the company were 141,165 units, with Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram Truck and Fiat all showing sizable gains.

The redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee had its best April sales in seven years, the company said. The Jeep Wrangler and Dodge Challenger muscle car also set new sales records for April. Sales for the Chrysler brand rose 56 percent over a year earlier.

This was the 11th straight month of sales gains of 20% or more as Chrysler bounces back from its government bailout after its takeover by Fiat. The company did not immediately discuss its market share, but it was expected to rise above 11.5 percent this April versus 10.2 percent a year ago.

As other auto makers prepare to report their numbers, total April sales of cars, SUVs, vans and pickups are expected to be down from March -- a regular seasonal trend -- but up 2 percent or more from April a year ago. "The momentum built by the recovering economy and compelling product choices in the first quarter continued to fuel new vehicle sales in April," says Jesse Toprak, vice president of market intelligence for TrueCar.com. "Consumer demand for the smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles remains strong while the SUV and truck categories are not seeing any dramatic drop in sales."

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.

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