Auto Sales Take Nosedive In April

April was such a lousy auto sales month that even Toyota Motor Corp. reported a decrease from the same month last year.

General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. also reported decreases, and DaimlerChrysler AG had a small increase, but the negative Toyota numbers are counter to a long trend of rising sales, sometimes in double digits.

Toyota sales, which include the Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands, dropped 4.4 percent in April, from 219,965 in April 2006 to 210,457 last month, the company said Tuesday.

The Japanese automaker has seen double-digit increases in recent months and it seemed like the rising sales would never end. In March, for example, the company's sales jumped 11.7 percent.

Ford reported dismal U.S. sales in April, 12.9 percent below the same month last year due largely to slumping car sales.

GM sales also were poor, down 9.5 percent from April of last year, while DaimlerChrysler sales were up 1.2 percent.

Honda sales also showed a big decline, off 9.1 percent from April of last year.

GM sold 307,554 light vehicles in April, down from 339,796 in the same month last year. Its car sales were down 10 percent, while truck sales were off 9 percent.

Ford sold a total of 227,619 light vehicles last month, down from 261,381 in April 2006. Car sales were off 23.6 percent, while truck sales were down 5.7 percent, the company said.

DaimlerChrysler's overall sales increased from 211,365 to 213,999, due to an increase at its Chrysler Group. Chrysler sales rose by 1.6 percent from 190,095 in April of last year to 193,104 last month. Mercedes sales were down 1.8 percent, from 21,270 to 20,895.

Chrysler said it had a strong retail month, with the Jeep brand up 29 percent due largely to sales of the Wrangler and Compass models.

Honda's decline was almost as surprising as Toyota's, with the company's overall sales going from 139,124 last April to 126,419 this year. Its car sales plummeted 13.7 percent, while its truck sales were off 2.6 percent.

At Ford, even the company's Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan midsized cars, which had been selling well in previous months, saw a decline, with Fusion sales off 2.5 percent and Milan sales down 5.4 percent.

Ford's F-series pickup trucks, traditionally the top-selling vehicles in the United States, were down 12.4 percent for the month.

Nearly 60 percent of Ford's car decline was due to cancellation of the Taurus sedan, which ceased production late last year. The company sold 14,668 Tauruses in April 2006, mostly to fleet buyers. The company plans to rename its Five Hundred sedan the Taurus for the 2008 model year.

Ford pointed to the success of its new products, namely the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossover vehicles and the Ford Expedition large sport utility vehicle, as signs that it is selling vehicles people want.

Expedition sales were up 27 percent for the month, while Ford sold 9,134 new Edges and 2,901 MKXs in April.

Industry analysts had expected a decline in overall U.S. auto sales in April, due largely to the slumping housing market, rising consumer debt and a lack of pent-up demand for vehicles.

Gasoline prices also are at or near $3 per gallon, and many consumers were expected to delay auto purchases until they find out what will happen to gas prices during the upcoming summer driving season.