Chrysler April U.S. sales up 14 pct; industry seen up 9 pct

DETROIT Thu May 1, 2014 8:53am EDT

DETROIT May 1 (Reuters) - Chrysler Group LLC, a unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, reported a 14 percent rise in U.S. auto sales for April, which is higher than the expected 9 percent increase for the industry.

April is seen as another strong month in what has so far been a strong sales year after allowing for cold and snowy weather in January and February.

Economists polled by Reuters expect the industry's annual sales rate in April to come in at 16.2 million vehicles, which would be slightly slower than March.

While Chrysler reported its 49th straight month of year-over-year monthly sales growth, it missed analysts' expectations for April U.S. sales. Nine analysts told Reuters they expected Chrysler's sales to total 180,837 vehicles, higher than the 178,652 reported by the No. 3 U.S.-based automaker.

Sales at Chrysler's Jeep line, which is to be the primary global brand of a merged Fiat and Chrysler expected later this year, rose 52 percent in April from a year earlier.

Jeep U.S. sales of 205,593 in the first four months of the year were 46 percent higher than a year earlier. Chrysler Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne has set a target of 1 million in global sales for Jeep for the year.

Chrysler's Ram truck sales rose 17 percent to 36,674 in the month and were up 23 percent so far this year.

Chrysler's Dodge brand sales were essentially the same in April as a year earlier. Dodge Caravan minivan sales rose 36 percent, but Dodge Dart sedan sales fell 26 percent.

Monthly auto sales are seen as an early snapshot of consumer demand for big-ticket items. Analysts and investors will be looking closely at demand for profitable trucks and where profit-sapping incentives offered by automakers are heading. (Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)