U.S. auto sales disappoint in April as Asian automakers miss mark

Fri May 1, 2015 5:02pm EDT
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By Bernie Woodall and Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) - U.S. auto industry sales in April came in below expectations as Asia's major carmakers' results disappointed, offsetting strong gains for trucks and SUVs made by General Motors (GM.N: Quote) and Ford (F.N: Quote).

Sales reported on Friday by Japan's Nissan (7201.T: Quote), Toyota (7203.T: Quote) and Honda (7267.T: Quote), as well as the combined results for South Korea's Hyundai (005380.KS: Quote) and its Kia (000270.KS: Quote) affiliate, all missed expectations. Fiat Chrysler (FCHA.MI: Quote) (FCAU.N: Quote) also disappointed.

Industry sales in April finished at 1,454,951 vehicles, up 4.6 percent according to research firm Autodata. That was below the gain of 6 percent analysts had expected as consumer appetite for trucks and SUVs favored the "Big Three" Detroit automakers.

"When demand for crossovers, SUVs and trucks is strong, the Asian automakers don't do so well," said Jesse Toprak, an independent consultant.

The industry's annual sales rate for the month was 16.50 million vehicles, below the 16.7 million to 16.8 million many analysts had expected.

Nevertheless, industry executives said demand remains strong and the industry was headed toward its best year in almost a decade.

"Consumer and commercial customer demand for pickups and utility vehicles has been building since last fall," said Kurt McNeil, GM's U.S. vice president of sales operations. "The auto industry continues to be on track to have its best sales year since 2006."

U.S. industry sales slipped to 16.5 million vehicles in 2006 from almost 17 million the prior year, and fell as low as 10.4 million in 2009 during the recession, before beginning to climb.   Continued...

A new Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sign is pictured after being unveiled at Chrysler Group World Headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan May 6, 2014.  REUTERS/Rebecca Cook