IRVINE, Calif. — Despite three fewer selling days in April, industry sales were up 2.1 percent compared to sales last year, or 14.8 percent after accounting for the three fewer days, Kelley Blue Book reported today.
With only a handful of manufacturers reporting so far, the vehicle information site said Chrysler and Toyota appear to be the early winners so far, while Ford and GM posted slight declines for the month. Chrysler sales jumped more than 20 percent due in large part to a 61 percent gain in sales of the 200, a 47 percent jump for Avenger, and a 138 percent improvement in sales of the 300. This was the 25th consecutive month of year-over-year gains and the 11th consecutive month that Chrysler was able to post gains in excess of 20 percent.
“Although Chrysler has posted a dramatic turnaround, some of its success in the last few months can be attributed to heavy incentive support for many of the brand’s high-selling models,” said Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst for Kelley Blue Book. “Chrysler’s 200 and Avenger currently are available with more than $3,000 in cash rebates, and the larger 300 is eligible with an ample $2,000 cash rebate.”
But Chrysler cannot rely on incentives to continue to drive sales indefinitely, Gutierrez noted, as the brand will need to keep its product line fresh to remain competitive. The Dodge Dart, set to hit showrooms in June, should help keep Chrysler’s momentum going forward, although with gas prices moving downward, Chrysler may have missed an opportunity for a strong launch out of the gate.
As for Toyota, which was expected to release results later today, KBB said it expect to see strong performances from the Prius family, Corolla and Yaris. “Consumers shopping for a fuel-efficient vehicle have received very little in the way of incentive support,” Gutierrez said. “Aside from low financing offers and a handful of lease deals, there has been very little in the way of cash rebates or significant discounts.”
As fuel prices ease in the months ahead, consumers can expect more deals as manufacturers battle for market share in an increasingly crowded segment.
Sales of fuel-efficient models continued to bolster sales growth in April, but now that gas prices have peaked for the year, demand likely will taper off, KBB said. In April, sales of the Ford Focus were up 12.5 percent, and the Fiat 500 was up 336 percent after its strongest month to date. The Chevrolet Sonic was up 38 percent over sales of the Aveo last year.
“In the way of fuel-efficient vehicles, through the rest of 2012, consumers will be able to choose between the all-new or redesigned Sonic, Fiesta, 500, Prius c, Cruze, Dart, Focus, Civic, Jetta and Elantra, just to name a few,” Gutierrez noted. “Each of these vehicles are significantly improved over the econo-box compacts of the last decade and as gas prices continue to moderate, manufacturers will need to be creative to stand out from pack.”