Cruze sales dip in April; Chevrolet sees gains

WARREN – With sales of 21,752 cars, the Lordstown-built Chevy Cruze sold fewer vehicles in April than it did in March, when 26,521 vehicles were sold. It also was lower than April 2013, when 22,032 Cruzes were sold, which represented a 1.3 percent decline.

Overall, U.S. car buyers came out of hibernation in April to spend on pickup trucks and SUVs, fueling an auto sales rebound that analysts expect to last the rest of the year.

Total sales grew to just under 1.4 million cars and trucks, up about 8 percent from a year ago. Sales ran at an annual rate of just over 16 million, according to Autodata Corp.

For the Cruze, although there was a one month decline in sales, the number of Cruze vehicles sold from January through April was 86,937, an 11.8 percent increase over the 77,793 Cruze vehicles sold from January through April in 2013.

Across all carmakers, Nissan led the way with an 18.3 percent increase over a year ago, with sales of the redesigned Rogue small SUV up almost 27 percent. Chrysler posted a 14 percent gain, boosted by a big jump in sales of Jeep SUVs. Both companies reported record April sales.

Toyota sales grew by 13 percent, led by a double-digit gain in truck sales.

General Motors, which has suffered through bad publicity from a string of embarrassing safety recalls, posted a 7 percent gain for the month, led by the Buick Encore small SUV and the Chevy Silverado pickup truck. And Hyundai sales rose a little more than 4 percent on strong SUV sales.

Chevrolet sales were up 5 percent. Deliveries of the Impala were up 27 percent; Spark sales were up 24 percent; the Volt was up 19 percent; and the Camaro was up 14 percent. Sales of the Sonic were down 6.1 percent.

Fleet sales were up 5 percent and retail sales were up 8 percent for the month. GM expects to increase its retail market share from March.

“Retail demand was steady in April, and truck sales and transaction prices were especially strong,” Kurt McNeil, U.S. vice president of sales operations, said in a prepared statement. “As we expected, the economy continues to strengthen. In addition, our award-winning new products are performing well, we have more on the way and our dealers are winning accolades for outstanding service.”

Across its four brands – Chevrolet, GMC, Buick, and Cadillac – General Motors had a 0.1 percent increase in sales. It sold 903,713 vehicles during the four-month period.

Over all automakers, there were some soft spots.

Honda sales grew only 1 percent, while Ford sales fell by a point. Ford’s car sales sputtered, although sales of its F-Series pickup, the best-selling vehicle in the U.S., rose 7.4 percent. Sales at Volkswagen dropped 8.4 percent.

U.S. consumers bought 15.6 million new cars and trucks in 2013. The industry entered 2014 with expectations of selling more than 16 million cars for the first time since 2007. But sales dropped 3 percent in January and were flat in February. March started slowly, but finished with a flourish.

“Sales momentum from March rolled into April, pushing the industry to its best back-to-back monthly sales pace since fall of 2007,” Toyota vice president Bill Fay said in a statement.

U.S. buyers have continued their shift toward small SUVs. At Ford, smaller SUVs accounted for 16 percent of U.S. sales in April, 2 percentage points higher than the same month last year, said Erich Merkle, the company’s top sales analyst. Small-car sales fell two percentage points and midsize car sales were flat.

“It is our estimation that both the midsize … and small-car segments are being adversely impacted by continued really strong performance in the small utility category this year,” he said.

Small SUVs are stealing sales from other parts of the market as well, especially with baby boomers who are downsizing from larger SUVs but like the maneuverability and high seating position of the smaller ones, Toprak said. For instance, sales of the Honda CR-V, the No. 1 seller in the segment, rose 7.4 percent to more than 28,000, making it one of the most popular vehicles in the nation.

Ford’s sales report was eclipsed by the news that the company’s CEO, Alan Mulally, would retire on July 1. He’ll be replaced by Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields.