Pickups lead strong April for auto firms

All 3 Detroit makers grow sales at least 11%

5/2/2013
NEW YORK TIMES
Executives said pickup sales grew three times as much as the overall market in the month and were a direct result of improved housing starts and strong demand from the energy sector.
Executives said pickup sales grew three times as much as the overall market in the month and were a direct result of improved housing starts and strong demand from the energy sector.

DETROIT — U.S. automakers said Wednesday that sales of pickups rose sharply in April because of a revival in the housing market and increased demand from the oil and gas industry.

The increase in truck sales fueled double-digit sales growth at all three Detroit automakers and kept the industry on track to sell more than 15 million vehicles this year.

Auto analysts said the overall industry sold about 1.3 million new vehicles during April, a 10 percent improvement over April, 2012. It was the best April performance since 2007 and another indication sales of new cars and trucks in the United States are returning to prerecession levels.

“As long as automakers keep reporting their best sales in at least five years, we’ll continue to be in good shape,” said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with auto-research site Edmunds.com.

Executives said pickup sales grew three times as much as the overall market in the month and were a direct result of improved housing starts and strong demand from the energy sector.

The biggest beneficiary was Ford Motor Co., the second-largest U.S. automaker. It reported that it sold 212,000 vehicles during April, an 18 percent gain from a year earlier. Ford said sales of its F-Series pickup increased 24 percent in April.

“F-Series continues to lead the pace in the truck industry,” said Ken Czubay, Ford’s head of sales and marketing in the United States. “We are building as many as we can.”

Ford is expected to announce today that it is adding 2,000 workers to a Missouri plant that makes the F-150 because of surging demand.

General Motors, the largest of the domestic automakers, said it sold 237,000 vehicles in April, an 11 percent improvement from a year earlier. Cadillac had the best performance of GM’s four brands, recording a 34 percent gain primarily from sales of its new ATS compact sedan and large XTS model. GM reported big gains on the truck side, as sales of its Chevrolet Silverado pickup jumped 28 percent.

Chrysler, the smallest of the Detroit companies, said it sold 156,000 new vehicles during April, up 11 percent from a year earlier and its 37th consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains. The Ram pickup led the way with a 49 percent gain from a year ago.

Chrysler also enjoyed strong performances by its profitable SUV models, with sales of the Dodge Durango up 65 percent and the new Jeep Grand Cherokee up 27 percent.

The Toledo-built Jeep Wrangler was one of seven Chrysler vehicles to set April sales records. The company said it sold 13,445 Wranglers last month, up 10 percent from the 12,184 sold last year in April. Year-to-date, Wrangler sales are up 8 percent.

Chrysler also said April was the best month for the compact Dodge Dart since the vehicle launched last June.

All three Detroit automakers gained market share during April and are expected to sustain that momentum with new products arriving this summer.

Among Japanese automakers, growth has slowed since their big comeback last year from inventory problems associated with the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011. Toyota said its U.S. sales fell 1 percent in April.

The company is preparing several new models, including fresh versions of its Lexus luxury cars. Honda sales rose 7 percent.

Nissan reported a 23 percent sales gain over April, 2012. Hyundai sales were up 2 percent on strong sales of the Elantra compact.