DETROIT -- Industry analysts are predicting a sputtering start to the spring selling season.
Blaming rising fuel costs, weaker import sales and a turn-away from trucks, analysts expect April sales to drop 1.1 to 4 percent compared with April 2005. They forecast a seasonally adjusted selling rate of about 16.5 million units.
Analysts estimate that General Motors' sales could slip as much as 7 percent in April but are impressed with sales of redesigned full-sized SUVs.
Merrill Lynch analyst John Murphy says the vehicles, which are critical to GM's market share and bottom line, could help prop up retail sales. Murphy expects overall sales to fall as the automaker tries to wean itself from a reliance on fleet sales.
Ford Motor Co. sales are predicted to decline 4 to 6 percent, as its truck sales come under fire from GM's GMT900 truck lineup. Goldman Sachs analyst Robert Barry expects Ford to sell a significant number of vehicles into fleets again this month.
Murphy, however, says Ford could gain traction from sales of the Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr siblings, as well as the Ford Five Hundred.
The Chrysler group is expected to be more insulated from industry conditions than its crosstown rivals. Analysts see a 1 to 3 percent drop in sales. Murphy predicts the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 will beat sales expectations, but he expects light-truck sales to slip.
Analysts don't expect import automakers to gain significant ground on the domestic companies this month, linking their slower sales to the sluggish market.
Jesse Toprak, executive director of industry analysis for Edmunds.com, expects that sales at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. will increase 3 percent, and Nissan North America Inc.'s sales will be up 1 percent. American Honda Motor Co. Inc., however, could fall 1 percent, he notes.
Murphy predicts mid-single-digit gains for Toyota, Honda and Nissan.
Automakers report April sales Tuesday, May 2.
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