Fleet sales rose faster than retail sales at General Motors, Ford and Nissan last month. But the fleet business declined at Toyota and Hyundia-Kia, and Chrysler reported only a small fleet gain.
For six of the top seven automakers, the combined 22 percent in fleet sales topped the aggregate retail increase of 17 percent. Honda doesn't report its minimal fleet business, which is estimated to remain steady at about 2 percent per month.
The seven largest players sold 223,700 fleet units in April, up 40,700 from a year ago. That follows a first quarter with 546,100 fleet sales, virtually flat from the first quarter of 2010.
Ford Motor Co. had the highest fleet mix in April: 68,700 units, or 36 percent of total volume. Fleet sales rose 31 percent, raising Ford's overall April increase to 13 percent, topping its retail increase of 10 percent.
George Pipas, Ford's chief sales analyst, said 16 percent of total sales went to daily rental fleets and 20 percent to commercial and government fleets. "For the full year, we expect to have a daily rental fleet mix of 12 percent and the total fleet mix will be about 30 to 31 percent of the mix," he said.
GM increased April fleet volume 31 percent to 75,900 units, driven by a surge to daily rental fleets. U.S. sales boss Don Johnson described the daily rental sales as seasonal and probably the highest level of the year.
GM retail volume rose 24 percent, but the fleet surge pushed the automaker to an overall 27 percent gain in April.
Nissan North America Inc. almost tripled fleet volume -- to 9,300 units, from 3,400 in April 2010. Its retail sales rose just 3 percent, putting overall growth at 12 percent.
By contrast, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., Chrysler Group and Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group reduced emphasis on fleets in April, which diminished their overall sales increases.
Hyundai-Kia's retail sales skyrocketed 57 percent in April. But fleet sales dropped 3 percent, shaving the net gain to 47 percent.
Chrysler slashed its fleet mix to 34 percent in April, from 41 percent, and posted only a 2 percent fleet sales gain for the month. That turned a 37 percent retail sales gain into overall 23 percent growth.
With lower production since the Japan earthquake, Toyota is diverting fleet vehicles to retail. Cutting fleet from 12 percent of the mix in the first quarter to 9 percent in April trimmed a 2 percent retail gain into 1 percent overall.
Randy Pflughaupt, group vice president of sales administration, said Toyota has stopped taking fleet orders. And in May, the only fleet deliveries will be vehicles built before the March 11 quake.
Jamie LaReau, Mike Colias and Ryan Beene contributed to this report