By James R. Healey and Fred Meier, USA TODAY
Detroit's sales results in April were mixed. Chrysler was up 20%, continuing its strong performance of late, while Ford had trouble selling its most fuel-efficient car at a time of high fuel prices, but no trouble selling truck models, and wound up down 4.6%. GM fell 8.2% overall, but said that's because its less-profitable fleet sales were down, while sales to individual customers were about the same.
All automakers report April sales today.
Fewer sales might not matter. Car companies -- though, in a switch, not Honda and Toyota -- are cutting profit-killing incentives, notes TrueCar.com. As a result, the average transaction price for a new vehicle in the U.S. in April jumped 4.2% from a year ago to an average $30,303. That was down 1.4% from the record in March, though, TrueCar.com noted.
General Motors pointed out that April this year had three fewer selling days than a year ago, only the second time in 10 years that's happened.
The number of selling days -- dealerships-open-for-business days -- usually varies no more than one day from year to year, depending on holidays and Sundays, when some stores close.
Chryslers, Jeeps and the Fiat 500 helped Chrysler Group to a 20% sales increase in April vs. a year ago.
It was the 25th consecutive monthly sales increase for the group and the 11th of 20% or more. The Fiat-controlled company reported it sold 141,165 cars and trucks in April.
The gain is likely to handily beat the industry average for April and boost Fiat-controlled Chrysler's market share that's already up about two percentage point from a year ago to more than 11%.
Several Chrysler models recorded their best April results ever or at least in years.
Fiat 500 minicar, the only Fiat model sold in the U.S. and counted as a Chrysler Group brand here, is finally gaining some traction, with sales up 336%, though that was just 3,849 cars. A year ago it had just gone on sale and CEO Sergio Marchionne now says it wasn't being properly marketed and has replaced the marketing chief and brand head.
Chrysler 300, the brand's big halo car, was up 138%. A new V-6 model with a new eight-speed automatic has helped in an era of higher gas prices with an easy-to-advertise 31 mpg highway rating.
Dodge Charger, sibling 300, lost ground, down 6%.
Dodge Durango, a big SUV, tumbled 36%, finding just 3,257 takers -- meaning it was outsold by the tiny Fiat 500.
Dodge brand overall was lackluster, up just 2%. The brand hopes the summer launch of its Dart compact will change that.
Jeep, a standout many months, was up 19%, with the Wrangler zipping 35% ahead of last year.
Jeep Grand Cherokee rose 21%. Marchionne said Monday that demand is so strong that the factory will skip the usual two-week summer shutdown and add 1,100 new workers in November instead of next year.
Ford Motor sales slipped 4.6% in April despite record showings by Fusion mid-size sedan and Edge crossover SUV.
Part of the reason: Incentives were down 12.6% from March, to an average $2,360, and about even with last year, up only 0.8%, according to Edmunds.com.
Trucks ruled at Ford:
Explorer sales were best in the month of April since 2005. Explorer now is a car-like crossover SUV of the type favored by today's buyers. Back in 2005, it still was the old-style, body-on-frame, truck-based SUV.
F-series full-size pickups rose 4%, making it the best April since 2007. Ford says a stunning 43% of F-150 retail sales -- to individual buyers rather than multi-vehicle commercial fleets -- were the EcoBoost V-6. That's a more-powerful engine than the 5-liter V-8, and its mpg rating is higher, but it is quite a bit more expensive.
Lincoln luxury brand continues to struggle, its April sales tumbling 12.8% depsite heavy advertising.
Fiesta subcompact, Ford's most fuel-efficient car, couldn't buy a break. It found just 5,135 takers, down 43.9% form April a year ago.
Focus compact, however, was attractive, posting a sales jump of 12.5%. The car's a recent redesign and is among the easiest on the market in which to find a manual transmission, a feature more popular this year than it has been since 2006.
Fusion, though setting a sales record, was up just 2% -- a mere 421 vehicles ahead of a strong showing a year earlier.
GM said it sold about the same number of new cars and trucks to individuals in April as it did a year earlier, but its multi-car fleet sales to rental-car companies plunged 25% "because of the timing of rental customer deliveries."
Selling to fleets buoys sales tallies, but those sales are less-profitable than what the industry calls "retail" sales to individual buyers.
Only GM's GMC truck brand was up in April -- 4.5% better than a year earlier.
Cadillac, GM's showpiece brand, was off a hefty 25%. It's awaiting two new models, the ATS compact and the larger XTS sedan. Caddy says the latter will be its most technically sophisticated model ever.
Chevrolet, GM's mainstream brand that accounts for more sales than the three other brands combined, fell 8.4%.
Buick, which undergoing what GM hopes is an image change from fogey-mobile to hip, slick and cool, was off 16.1%.