The meteoric rise of Chrysler Group LLC continued in April with a 20 percent sales increase over last year, the automaker's 11th straight month of gains at least that strong.
The Auburn Hills, Mich.-based automaker said Tuesday it sold 141,165 cars and trucks in the United States last month for its best April since 2008. Through the year's first four months, Chrysler's domestic sales are up 33 percent to 539,216 vehicles.
The Toledo-built Jeep Wrangler was one of the top gainers for the month, setting an April record with sales of 12,814 — a 35 percent increase over last year. Sales of the Liberty, Jeep's other Toledo product, were up 19 percent, the automaker reported.
Although Chrysler's year-over-year performance has been impressive, it remains behind Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. as the No. 3 domestic automaker. Still, it was the only one of the Detroit Three to post a gain over last April.
GM's sales dipped 8 percent from last year, although the company said the drop was because of a 25 percent decrease in fleet sales.
GM's retail sales were nearly unchanged from last year, falling 0.2 percentage point to 156,280. For the year, GM has sold 821,707 cars and trucks in the United States, down slightly from 2011.
Ford sales dropped 5 percent from last April, to 174,042. For the year, sales remain up 5 percent at 692,453.
Despite the drop in April, Ford said the month was strong for some of its more fuel-efficient vehicles, with the Fusion and Edge setting April sales records. The company also announced Tuesday that a third shift would be added to its Cleveland plant that builds 3.5-liter EcoBoost and 3.7-liter V6 engines. Ford said it sold 39,000 vehicles in the first quarter powered by the 3.5-liter engine, up 285 percent over the first quarter of 2011.
Japanese heavyweight Toyota Motor Corp. also improved sales over April of last year. The company said it sold 178,044 vehicles, a 12 percent increase from a year earlier.
Honda Motor Co. sales fell a little more than 2 percent to 122,012. Honda and a handful of other automakers noted that April, 2012, had fewer "selling days" than April, 2011, which contributed to the slower pace.
Although overall industry sales in April did not rise to the levels of February and March, the continued strength in the sector has many raising their full-year projections.
Last week, Edmunds.com revised its 2012 auto sales forecast to 14.4 million vehicles, up 800,000 from its initial forecast.
"Higher consumer confidence, as well as warmer winter weather and strong fleet sales have spurred sales strength so far this year," Lacey Plache, Edmunds.com chief economist, said in a statement. "We can expect the auto sales rate to stay elevated through most of the rest of the year, even as downside risks — like political and fiscal uncertainty in the U.S. and slowing economies in Europe and China — continue to loom."
GM also increased its outlook for full-year light vehicle sales in the United States to a range of 14 million to 14.5 million, up from a range of 13.5 million to 14 million.
Some of the strongest gainers have been overseas companies. Volkswagen AG said it sold 37,525 Volkswagens in April, led by strong sales of the Jetta and Passat. The German automaker has seen sales jump more than 31 percent in April and 38 percent for the year.
Hyundai Motor America also continues its impressive sales run.
March was the best sales month ever for both the Hyundai and Kia brands. Both brands posted small gains in April, though they were enough to again capture monthly sales records.
On Monday, Hyundai announced it would add a third shift to its Montgomery, Ala., plant that builds the Sonota and Elantra sedans.
The additional shift will create nearly 900 jobs and is expected to increase the plant's production capacity by 20,000 vehicles per year.
Analysts have said Chrysler's success has been driven mostly by its products.
Nearly every vehicle in the Chrysler lineup has been refreshed or completely overhauled in recent months.
Last week, in its first-quarter earnings report, Chrysler said it captured an 11.2 percent market share for the first quarter, up from a 9.2 percent share in the first quarter of 2011.
Chrysler will soon get another boost when the Dodge Dart hits showrooms. The company has been struggling in the small-car segment for years, but the automaker believes the Dart will change all that.
This week, a union official at the Illinois plant that will build the Dart told Bloomberg News production would begin Thursday.
Engines for the Dart will be made in Dundee, Mich.
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: email@example.com or 419-724-6134.