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April's U.S. sales story lines: Go-go, so-so and no-no

Industry's 8% rise stokes hope for a 16 million year

With volume up 13 percent in April, Toyota's U.S. sales have swung from a net loss through March to an increase of 2 percent through April. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

UPDATED: 5/1/14 6:34 pm ET -- adds details on Nissan sales

Automakers rode higher incentives to an 8 percent gain in U.S. auto sales in April. It’s the latest sign that the industry is on pace to top 16 million units this year, but not by much.

April’s seasonally adjusted annual selling rate was 16.1 million on sales of 1,391,303 light vehicles. That’s down a bit from the 16.4 million SAAR in March, but much better than the low 15 million selling rates in snow-slammed January and February.

Through the first third of 2014, industry sales are up 3 percent from a year earlier, following last year’s 8 percent increase to 15.6 million. A total of 16 million this year would mark the first time the industry has reached that level since 2007 – before the recession took root.

Fleet sales continue to lag. Rising April retail volume was boosted by incentives that rose to an average $2,751 per vehicle, almost 9 percent higher than April 2013, said Larry Dominique, executive vice president of

“It seems like automakers are going to keep juicing the market this year,” he said. That could start cutting into manufacturer margins, he added.

The major players split into three groups in April: Go-go, so-so and no-no.

Nissan North America jumped 18 percent, followed by Chrysler Group with a 14 percent gain and Toyota Motor Sales up 13 percent. It was familiar territory for Nissan and Chrysler -- both are up double digits through four months.

Hyundai-Kia America gained 8 percent and General Motors rose 7 percent, in line with the industry’s 8 percent pace.

Finally, American Honda, Ford Motor and Volkswagen Group of America huddled at the bottom in April. Honda was up 1 percent; Ford and VW off 1 percent. The three are the only major automakers down year-to-date.

Other April highlights:

Pull me up

Strong April sales pulled three automakers into the sunlight on year-to-date volume. General Motors was down 2 percent through the first quarter, but its 7 percent April gain pushed it into positive territory over four months by 1,104 units.

The same for Toyota Motor Sales: 13 percent growth in April (plus 23,500 units) shifted a three-month net loss to a four-month increase of 15,053. And Mazda, too. After a plus-2,540 April, it is 2,316 units to the good through four months.

Pull me up (almost)

Chevrolet sales rose 5 percent in April. That cut its year-to-date deficit to 1 percent, but it’s still 7,833 units upside down. The Hyundai brand also is still down -- 1,525 through four months -- despite an April gain of almost 2,800 units.

Pickups sparkle

Full-sized pickups again outperformed the market in April, surging 12 percent to 171,235 units. Through four months, sales are 6 percent higher at 622,189.

On a percentage basis, the Toyota Tundra led the segment, up 24 percent. With a 17 percent gain, Chrysler’s Ram pickup volume jumped to 36,674 units.

As usual, the Ford F series dominated with 63,387 sales, up 7 percent. GM’s new-generation twins had a solid month: Chevrolet Silverado up 9 percent and GMC Sierra 21 percent higher. But through four months, the pickups introduced last fall are 1,077 units below their predecessors’ performance for the same 2013 period.

Nissan clings to No. 5

Nissan North America hung onto the No. 5 sales spot, edging American Honda by 1,090 units through four months.

Nissan finished 2013 in seventh place in U.S. light-vehicle sales. But Nissan’s volume jumped 13 percent so far this year, pushing it past both 2013’s No. 6 Hyundai-Kia and No. 5 American Honda.

Oddly enough, Nissan’s four-month lead over Honda is smaller than it was after March, even though Nissan boosted April sales 18 percent while Honda added just 1 percent last month. But that’s because Honda trounced Nissan by more than 43,000 units in April 2013.

Nissan remains far behind the top four automakers: General Motors, Ford, Toyota and Chrysler. But through four months, it’s Nissan: 458,900; Honda: 457,810; and Hyundai-Kia: 412,802.

You can reach Jesse Snyder at -- Follow Jesse on Twitter:

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