Daimler AG's sales fell 30.7 percent, including a 49.9 percent plunge for Smart minicars. That marked the first setback this year for the Smart brand, introduced in January 2008. Subaru, one of the few automakers to post a sales increase through March, fell 6.7 percent in April for its sharpest decrease this year. The Honda Accord was the best-selling vehicle in the United States, unseating Ford's F-series pickup.
Ford outsells Toyota
Ford's sales had dropped more than 40 percent in each of the first three months of the year. Its April performance included a 36.9 percent slide at Volvo. Sales of its traditional Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models fell 31.3 percent. Ford Motor outsold Toyota Motor Sales for the first time since March 2008.
Ford executives said the sales pace degraded in the final week of the month. Pipas attributed the slowdown in part to the "CNN effect." He said uncertain customers stayed away from showrooms because of reports about turmoil at Chrysler and at General Motors.
Chrysler posted a 48.1 percent decline for April, a day after filing for bankruptcy. GM is at risk of filing within a month, when it's due to show the White House auto task force that it merits additional U.S. rescue loans.
The months results fell a little short of our expectations, and we believe it was because of more turbulence in the minds of the consumer as to what was going on," said Ken Czubay, Ford vice president of U.S. sales and marketing.
April marked the 18th straight year-over-year sales drop. Analysts predict a sales recovery in the second half of the year, as the United States struggles to climb out of a recession that's also in its 18th month -- the longest since the Great Depression.
Sales to individual customers "continued at about the same selling rate as February and March," said Mark LaNeve, GM's North American sales chief, in a statement. GMs better results were largely driven by a return to more normal volumes of fleet sales, the company said. GM's retail sales fell 45 percent.
At Chrysler, co-President Jim Press said a 66 percent decline in fleet sales was the biggest drag on April numbers. Retail sales fell 39 percent, he said.
Sales that have hovered between a 9 million- and 10 million-unit rate this year are signs of stability, said GM sales analyst Mike DiGiovanni.
"Consumers could be poised to start spending some money," he said. "Theyre taking a wait-and-see attitude."
Earlier this week, the Conference Board, a market information group, reported that its consumer confidence index had increased to 39.2 in April from 26.9 in March. That's still down from 62.8 in April 2008. As a reference, the board says the level of consumer confidence in 1985 was 100.
Six analysts surveyed by Automotive News and three dozen economists in a Reuters poll had predicted an average April sales rate of 9.8 million units.
The rate rose in April despite incentives declining about 4 percent from March levels to $3,031 per vehicle, according to Edmunds.com data. Thats still up almost 30 percent from April 2008. Of the biggest automakers, Chrysler spent the most on incentives: $4,288 per sale.
Among GMs eight brands, the smallest drops came from the four it said this week it would keep: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC. Chevrolet declined the least: 26.7 percent.
Richard Truett, Jamie LaReau and Amy Wilson contributed to this report.