GM sees April U.S. new-car sales rising at similar rate to March

General Motors Co Chief Executive Dan Akerson said he sees the U.S. auto industry's new-vehicle sales in April rising at a similar rate as the previous month, when they increased 3.4 percent.

"I think they'll be about what they were in March in terms of year over year growth," he told reporters on Wednesday on the sidelines of a charity event in East Lansing, Michigan.

The U.S. auto industry is scheduled to report April sales on May 1. In March, the sales increase met Wall Street's expectations as rising home prices and an increase in housing construction spurred demand.

Akerson said he was especially worried about weak consumer confidence.

Auto sales are an early indicator each month of economic health. The industry has so far proven stronger than the overall U.S. economy as the record high average age of cars and trucks on the road have reached more than 11 years, and easier availability of credit have pushed consumers into the market.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expect the industry to report an annual selling rate of 15.3 million vehicles in April, which would mark the sixth straight month above the 15 million level.

Worries about a possible slowdown in the U.S. economy were underlined on Wednesday after orders in March for long-lasting manufactured goods recorded their biggest drop in seven months.

The Commerce Department said U.S. durable goods orders slumped 5.7 percent as demand fell across the board for these goods -- items from toasters to aircraft that are meant to last three years or more. The decline followed a 4.3 percent increase in February and was double what economists had expected.

Akerson also said that Europe, where the U.S. automaker does not expect to return to profitability before 2015, remains weak. He pointed to the loss reported on Wednesday in that region by U.S. rival Ford Motor Co.

Ford on Wednesday posted a higher-than-expected first-quarter profit, but lost $462 million in Europe. Ford reiterated it expects to lose $2 billion in Europe this year, but its restructuring was on track.

GM is scheduled to report first-quarter results on May 2. Last year, it lost $1.8 billion in Europe.

(Editing by Edwina Gibbs)