Booming pickup sales drove Detroit automakers to double-digit gains and the U.S. auto market 9 percent higher in April.
While that percentage gain was the second-highest of the year, the results marked a setback for the industry's recovery. The seasonally adjusted annual sales rate came in at 14.9 million, below estimates in the 15.2 million range. It was the first time since October that the SAAR dropped below 15 million.
Despite the slip, "nearly every economic pillar of light-vehicle sales is strong enough to keep the SAAR in the 15 to 15.5 million range for the entire year," said Kurt McNeil, General Motors' U.S. sales boss. He cited a stable job market, rebounding housing market and rising income and household wealth.
Detroit 3 full-sized pickup volume jumped 29 percent to 144,042 units, helped by contractors and other small businesses continuing to replace aging pickups as the housing industry comes back.
It was the second month this year that Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group and General Motors each topped a 10 percent sales increase. In the first quarter, each company gained U.S. share for the first time in two decades.
Toyota Motor Sales and Volkswagen Group of America recorded small sales declines. Toyota's 1 percent fall "was a surprise," said analyst Alec Gutierrez of Kelley Blue Book.
"We expected them to post a small gain," he said. "But the Toyota Camry is seeing increased competitors like the Honda Accord," which outsold Camry in April.
Pickups stay hot: Chrysler's Ram surged 49 percent to lead the April charge of domestic full-sized pickups. The Ford F series rose 24 percent to 59,030 and extended its lead as the best-selling U.S. nameplate. General Motors will launch new-generation pickups soon but still managed to bump April sales 24 percent on its current twins, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra.
"The recovering large-pickup market is good news for Detroit automakers because they are more profitable than any other product," said analyst Jesse Toprak of TrucCar.com. "And the pickup segment is only getting started."
Import brands mixed
Beyond the Detroit 3, April was a mixed month for major players.
Nissan North America rose 23 percent over a weak year-ago April, but its 87,847 sales put it far behind No. 6 automaker Hyundai-Kia Group.
American Honda gained 7 percent and Hyundai-Kia eked out a 1 percent increase, both over lackluster year-earlier numbers.
But on the down side, Toyota Motor Sales declined for the first time in 18 months as the Camry fell 14 percent.
And Volkswagen Group of America sales fell 3 percent.
Chrysler's streak stays, VW's goes
Chrysler extended its consecutive year-over-year growth string to 37 months by increasing sales 11 percent in April.
But while Chrysler started on Year 4 of its string, Volkswagen Group of America's 31-month streak ended with its April loss of 3 percent.