Reuters

(Reuters)

Auto Sales Back on Track in April

Industries Dow Jones Newswires

After a sluggish start to the year, U.S. light-vehicle sales regained momentum in April as cheap credit, low gasoline prices and rising consumer confidence helped drive more buyers to showrooms. 

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Analysts forecast industrywide sales will rise 5% in April to set a new monthly high and the selling pace will eclipse 17.5-million vehicles, putting the auto industry back on track to beat last year's sales record. 

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles on Tuesday posted a 5.6% rise in April sales, driven by continued demand for its Jeep brand. It was the Italian-U.S. auto maker's best April in 11 years as Jeep brand sales climbed 17% for their best April yet, with the Renegade and Compass logging their best monthly sales ever. 

Ford Motor logged 3.6% growth to 229,739 light vehicles sold in the month. Ford brand SUVs saw their best April sales ever, while F-series pickups passed the 70,000 mark for a second month. 

General Motors' U.S. sales fell 3.5% in the month due to a pullback on fleet business. Retail sales rose 3.3%, helped by stronger sales at its Buick, GMC and Chevrolet brands. 

"Following a disappointing March, we expect sales to get back on track in April," said Kelley Blue Book analyst Tim Fleming. "Increased fleet sales and rising incentive spending among auto makers remain the factors to watch, but retail demand appears to be holding steady, signaling the industry's strong run isn't over quite yet." 

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Car makers benefited from an extra selling day in April, as well as the Easter holiday falling in March, giving them five full weekends of sales. Typically, new-car sales start to pick up in the spring when there is better weather and longer days. 

With gas prices hovering at about $2 a gallon, customers continued to snap up pricier trucks and sport-utility vehicles with sales of those models expected to climb 7% in April, according to WardsAuto. Passenger-car sales, meanwhile, are forecast to fall 6% as more shoppers gravitate to roomier vehicles. 

For the month, the average transaction price rose an estimated 1.9% to $33,865 for a light vehicle in the U.S., with Detroit auto makers posting particularly strong numbers, according to Kelley Blue Book. 

Write to Anne Steele at Anne.Steele@wsj.com