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US auto sales remain strong in April

Keywords: Tags  Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, Toyota, auto sales, Robert Carter, Erich Merkle, Don Johnson corinna petry

DEARBORN, Mich. — After a blockbuster March in which auto sales jumped 21.8 percent from the previous month and 12.4 percent from a year earlier, April’s volume may seem a bit disappointing. But last month had fewer selling days, which observers said may have depressed results.

U.S. vehicle sales by the top seven brands totaled nearly 1.02 million last month, down 16.1 percent from 1.21 million in March but up 1.2 percent from just over 1 million in April last year, according to an AMM analysis. Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Chrysler Group LLC was the breakout star in April, recording a 20.4-percent improvement from a year earlier.

Sales of 3.99 million vehicles in the first four months of 2012 were 9.2 percent ahead of nearly 3.66 million in the same period last year.

"The momentum we saw building throughout the first quarter continued into April," said Robert Carter, vice president and general manager of Torrance, Calif.-based Toyota USA Inc., who put the SAAR (seasonally adjusted annual sales rate) at about 14.4 million vehicles.

At Dearborn-based Ford Motor Co., U.S. sales analyst Erich Merkle said the small-car segment continued to hold a high share of industry sales, but volume of mid-sized cars also rose. Sales of full-size pickups have fallen since December but are well ahead of spring 2011 levels.

Detroit-based General Motors Co. also discussed its product mix. "We did see very good balance across most segments," said Don Johnson, vice president of U.S. sales operations, citing increased sales of luxury vehicles, pickup trucks, compact crossovers and mid-sized cars. "Despite some persistent headwinds—whether it’s the European debt crisis or some uncertainty around fuel prices—we continue to expect gradual improvement in the economy going forward."

GM has increased its 2012 light-vehicle sales outlook to between 14 million and 14.5 million from a previous estimate of 13.5 million to 14 million, Johnson said. "Strength in the manufacturing sector and strong retail sales will continue to lead to more job creation. That’s going to help more consumers put the recession behind them, gain even more confidence and drive vehicle sales higher for both the industry and GM this year."

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