General Motors and Ford reported weaker April sales, hurt by lower demand for compact and subcompact cars.
Chrysler, however, posted a 20-percent rise in sales. Its top sellers included the Ram pickup, Jeep Wrangler and Chrysler 200 midsize sedan, which benefited from big rebates of $2,000 or more, analysts say.
Automakers report their U.S. April sales Tuesday. Overall, the annual sales rate likely slowed compared with the blistering pace of February and March. But analysts aren't concerned, saying April had more Sundays than March and fewer cars are sold on Sundays
General Motors Co. said its U.S. sales fell 8 percent last month, blaming reduced sales to car rental companies. Sales of the Chevy Cruze, a hit since last year, fell. Ford posted a 5 percent fall in sales. The Fiesta subcompact, which was a hot seller when it went on sale last year, fell 44 percent as it faced new competition from the Chevrolet Sonic and Prius C.
Nissan Motor Co. is also expected to do well, although it also relied on big rebates to sell its Nissan Altima sedan, a strategy aimed to clear the model out of showrooms to make room for an all-new version.
Honda Motor Co. is expected to report a double-digit sales decline, according to Kelley Blue Book. That carmaker will be hurt by Toyota's resurgence. And Honda is losing share even though it's spending an estimated $500 more per vehicle on incentives than Toyota, says Jesse Toprak, vice president of market intelligence at TrueCar.
Here's what The Associated Press' reporters are finding:
Ford sales fell 5 percent in April, hurt by trouble on several fronts.
Sales of the Fiesta subcompact dropped 44 percent from last April, a puzzling trend when gas prices remain high. The Ford Focus small car is likely biting into some Fiesta sales, and it's facing new competition from the Chevrolet Sonic and Prius C.
Ford Escape sales also dropped 20 percent, but that's because the company is clearing out old models to make room for a new Escape which goes on sale later this spring.
Last year Ford sold more than 6,500 Crown Victoria sedans as police departments snapped up the model before Ford discontinued it at the end of 2011. But Ford isn't yet making up for that volume with the new Taurus-based Police Interceptor, which sold just 547 last month.
Ford also is hurting from the decision to discontinue the Ranger small pickup. Ranger sales dropped 63 percent from last April, and the truck will soon be gone from dealers' lots. Ford will be able to move some of those buyers into its larger F-Series trucks, but some may go elsewhere.
GENERAL MOTORS STUMBLES
General Motors' April U.S. sales fell 8 percent as all of the company's brands but one reported big declines.
Buick sales were down 16 percent compared with a year earlier, while Cadillac sales were off 25 percent. Chevrolet was down 8 percent. Only GMC had an increase, and it was small at 4.5 percent.
GM's sales of just over 213,000 were led by its perennial top seller, the Chevy Silverado pickup truck, which was up 4.8 percent to almost 31,000. But the Chevrolet Cruze compact, a big seller for GM for more than a year, was down almost 28 percent to just over 18,000 cars.
GM pointed out that its sales to rental car companies dropped 25 percent for the month due to the timing of some deliveries. It also said there were three fewer selling days last month than in April of 2011. Retail sales to individual buyers were about the same as April of last year, GM said.
GM is still optimistic, though. It raised its total U.S. sales outlook for the year by a half-million cars and trucks. The company now expects Americans to buy 14 million to 14.5 million vehicles for the full year.
GM ended April with enough vehicles in its inventory to supply dealers for 79 days. That's more than the 60 days considered optimal to give customers enough of a selection. The company had 121-day supply of big pickup trucks, down slightly from March. GM is building up pickup inventory as it prepares to close factories and equip them to make an all-new pickup due out in 2013.
CHRYSLER KEEPS ROLLING
Chrysler's 20-percent sales rise is far better than the increase expected for the rest of the auto industry. The company's top-selling Ram pickup saw sales jump 19 percent last month. Chrysler also was helped at the smaller end of the lineup. It sold more than 3,800 Fiat 500 mini-cars, four times the sales from a year earlier. Jeep and Chrysler brand sales were strong. Chrysler sales rose 56 percent, led by the 200 midsize sedan.
Chrysler's outlook for U.S. sales is optimistic. The company is forecasting an annual selling rate of 14.6 million cars and trucks, on the high end of analyst predictions.
At the end of April, Chrysler had enough cars and trucks to supply its dealers for 59 days. That's just below what's considered optimal to keep a good selection for customers. And it's far better than the Chrysler of old, which often had cars and trucks piled up on Detroit-area parking lots because dealers wouldn't take them.