April auto sales cool; Hyundai, Kia and Nissan fall off prior pace

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Auto sales in April fell back from the robust growth they have logged so far this year.

Industry sales rose just 2.1% over April 2011, according to Alec Gutierrez, an analyst at auto information company Kelley Blue Book. Sales have averaged a year-over-year gain of about 13% through March.

One reason for the slowdown is a quirk in the calendar. Some states make auto dealers close on Sundays, which contributed to three fewer selling days than the same month a year earlier.

But automakers also said sales in April started slowly, strengthening near the end.

Hyundai, Kia and Nissan, brands that had double-digit gains during the first part of this year, all cooled off last month.


Hyundai Motor America sales rose just 1% to 62,264. That was well below the 15% growth rate for the South Korean automaker during the first quarter.

Its sister company Kia Motors America said sales rose 1% in April to 47,550 vehicles. That compared to a 31% growth rate during the first three months of the year.

Likewise, Nissan North America sales slipped 1% to 64,200 vehicles last month. Prior to April its 2012 sales were running 13% ahead of last year.

General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and American Honda Motor Co. posted declines.

GM’s sales fell 8.2% to 213,387 vehicles in April. Much of the decline came from fewer sales to fleet customers such as rental car companies, government agencies and commercial customers.

Ford said its U.S. sales fell 5% to 180,350 vehicles. The automaker’s results were hurt by a 44% plunge in sales of its smallest car, the Fiesta, and slower sales at its Lincoln luxury car brand.

Ford’s share of the retail market – what is sold to consumers -- also declined because 33% of its sales for the month were to fleet customers.


Honda’s April sales fell 3% to 109,837 vehicles.

Still, some automakers continued to post healthy gains.

Toyota Motor Corp., recovering from production and supply problems caused by the Japanese earthquake last year, said its U.S. sales rose 11.6% to 178,044 vehicles.

Chrysler Group sales rose 20% to 141,165 vehicles.

Volkswagen of America said its U.S. sales of 37,525 vehicles in April was a 31.5% increase over the same month a year earlier. The numbers don’t include the German automaker’s Audi brand.

Overall the market remains on a steady recovery track from the historic lows it suffered during the recent recession, said Jesse Toprak, an analyst at auto price information company

“There are automakers that are showing some weaknesses, including Ford and Nissan, but I don’t see a fundamental problem in the marketplace,” Toprak said.

Nissan’s sales are off because it reduced its incentive spending by more than other automakers last month, cutting what it offered by an average of 11% or $330 per car, Toprak said.

“It may be that the nature of their buyers are very much bargain hunters,” he said.

Likewise, Ford had the second largest drop in incentives. It also lost market share to Toyota as the Japanese automaker recovers from its inventory problems of last year, Toprak said.



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