* GM sales up 26 percent for April
* Ford, Chrysler sales up 16 and 22 pct, respectively
* Toyota sales rise only 1.3 percent for April
* Industry sales gain 18 pct
(Recasts first sentence, adds final industry sales increase of
18 pct, adds Canada sales and other background)
By Bernie Woodall and Ben Klayman
DETROIT, May 3 GM, Ford and Chrysler showed
much faster U.S. sales growth rates in April than Toyota and
most other Japanese brands, in a sign that supply disruptions
as a result of Japan's March 11 earthquake are hitting Japanese
Detroit automakers were also helped by the spike in
gasoline prices to near $4 a gallon which fed consumer hunger
for more fuel-efficient cars.
"An American resurgence seems to be occurring," said
Edmunds.com senior analyst Michelle Krebs.
GM sales were driven by its fuel-efficient Chevrolet
compact cars and compact crossovers: the Cruze, Equinox and
Graphic of US light vehicle sales for April
Graphic of US gasoline consumption:
Table of US April auto sales [ID:nN03146246]
In March, for only the second time since 1998, Ford Motor
Co (F.N) outsold the larger General Motors Co (GM.N). But in
April GM sold 18 percent more vehicles than Ford. Ford came in
No. 2 after it showed a U.S. 16 percent sales gain compared
with GM's 26 percent rise.
For the overall industry, April U.S. sales were up 18
percent compared with a year earlier, according to consultant
April sales were 13.17 million units on the seasonally
adjusted annualized rate followed by the auto industry, up from
11.26 million units last April.
It was the third straight month that U.S. auto sales topped
13 million on an annualized basis -- which had not happened
since mid-2008. Still, that is well off annual sales of nearly
17 million in the decade before the downturn of 2008 and 2009.
Sales fell to 10.4 million vehicles in 2009.
Gary Bradshaw, portfolio manager with Hodges Capital
Management in Dallas, said that a general U.S. economic
recovery will allow consumers to continue buying cars at a rate
that will also mean a gradual recovery in the auto industry.
"As long as fuel prices don't go dramatically higher, car
sales are going to continue at a pretty decent clip through the
remainder of the year," Bradshaw said.
As for the success of GM and to a lesser degree Ford in
April, Bradshaw said, "Folks may be buying smaller cars, but
they're loading them up with options" that make them more
lucrative for automakers.
Another beneficiary of the desire for cars that can go far
on a gallon of gas was Hyundai Motor Co (005380.KS), which
posted a 40 percent sales gain for its best showing ever for
April. The cars it sold in April carried an average fuel
efficiency of 36.2 miles per gallon, the company said.
Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T), No. 3 in the U.S. market behind
GM and Ford, felt the impact of the Japanese earthquake and
production shutdowns as its sales rose only 1.3 percent.
Japan's Honda Motor Co (7267.T) also showed weaker gains
than its American counterparts with a 9.8 percent rise in
Jesse Toprak, analyst with Truecar.com, said the Japanese
automakers face even more difficulties in coming months.
"This is only the beginning," Toprak said. "The impact of
the shortages will be more dramatic in the coming months for
Toyota sales. Starting in June, it's probably not unreasonable
to see double-digit percentage declines from Toyota."
In another sign of strength of the Detroit manufacturers,
Chrysler Group LLC, managed by Italy's Fiat SpA FIA.MI,
increased April sales 22 percent, its 13th straight month of
year-on-year U.S. sales growth.
Retail sales, which do not include the bulk fleet totals,
were up 25 percent for GM, 10 percent for Ford, and 37 percent
GM's market share through four months this year is 19.6
percent, up from 18.7 percent last year while Ford's market
share has fallen to 16.2 percent from 16.7 percent. Toyota's
share is 14.1 percent, from 15.4 percent a year ago.
GM shares ended 2.5 percent higher at $32.99, a cent below
their IPO price from last November. Ford shares dipped 0.5
percent to close at $15.38 on Tuesday.
Sales in Canada reported on Tuesday also showed gains
linked to sales of fuel-efficient vehicles. [ID:nN03107964]
The Cruze, the compact car that GM introduced last year, is
now the second-biggest selling vehicle in the automaker's
lineup, behind only its Silverado pickup truck. Cruze sales so
far this year are about triple the sales of the car it
replaced, the compact Cobalt.
"Recently, rising fuel prices have led many to rethink
their vehicle choice," said Don Johnson, GM's U.S. sales chief.
Ford sales analyst George Pipas said this week that Ford is
also showing a major shift in consumer taste toward smaller and
more fuel-efficient cars as gasoline prices rise.
Analysts said American consumers are shifting to both
smaller cars and opting for more fuel-efficient and smaller
engines -- sometimes with expensive options like turbocharging
-- when they choose to buy larger vehicles in the face of
rising fuel prices.
Pipas said the "surprise of the year" to him is that about
half of the sales of Ford's best-selling model, the F-150
pickup truck, include V6 engines. At the beginning of the year,
Ford only sold V8 engines in its F-150 trucks.
And at GM, April sales of vehicles with 4-cylinder engines
made up 39 percent of its total, up from 27 percent a year
GM's Johnson said that the automaker's first-quarter sales
showed that 35 percent of retail sales were for vehicles that
get at least 30 miles per gallon, compared with 19 percent two
U.S. retail gasoline prices rose 8 cents in the past week
to $3.96 per gallon and are now $1.07 higher than a year ago,
according to government figures released on Monday.
Al Castignetti, Nissan U.S. brand general manager for
Nissan Motor Co (7201.T), thinks that this year's gas price
rise has been less jarring to consumers than in 2008 when
average pump prices first went above $4 per gallon.
Nissan's sales rose 12.2 percent in April.
JAPAN QUAKE IMPACT
A clear sign of the impact on auto sales for the Japanese
automakers in the U.S. market is the decline in sales of luxury
brands, which are made almost exclusively in Japan.
In April, sales fell 18 percent for Toyota's luxury brand,
4 percent for Honda's Acura, and 6 percent at Nissan's Infiniti
In Japan, new-vehicle sales in April halved, sinking to the
lowest monthly tally on record, as Japanese automakers felt the
full brunt of the March earthquake. [ID:nL3E7G204U]
Also on Monday, French car sales fell 1.2 percent,
reflecting the end of a scrappage scheme. In Italy, they fell
to the lowest level in 15 years. [ID:nLDE7411V1]
The Japanese automakers are not expected to return to
normal production levels in Japan until the end of the year.
Toyota and Honda models have dominated the compact car
segment of the U.S. auto industry since the 1980s.
As the number of available fuel-efficient cars from Japan
declines, U.S. brands from GM and Ford are seen as the most
likely to gain, analysts said. Chrysler is still developing its
The strong showing of American automakers in their home
market and the chance that they can make short-term gains on
their Japanese rivals comes as they face United Auto Worker
union talks later this summer. The UAW has said that it will
push for a share of the automakers' gains.
Toyota dealers are expected to experience thin inventories
in May and June in particular, according to U.S. publicly
traded auto dealers groups including AutoNation Inc (AN.N) and
Group 1 Automotive (GPI.N) .
(Additional reporting by Deepa Seetharaman, editing by Matthew