DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co's (GM.N) U.S. auto sales in April topped expectations, while those of Ford Motor Co (F.N) and Chrysler Group LLC missed, as the first group of the major automakers reported results on Thursday.
Chrysler, a unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles FIA.MI, said U.S. auto sales rose 14 percent in April to 178,652. Analysts polled by Reuters looked for 180,837. GM said April sales increased 7 percent to 254,076, while analysts estimated 250,380. Ford said sales fell 1 percent to 211,126, while analysts expected 216,068.
April was seen as another strong month in what has so far been a solid sales year after taking into account the cold and snowy weather in January and February.
"The economy continues to strengthen," said Kurt McNeil, head of GM's U.S. sales operations. "Retail demand was steady in April, and truck sales and transaction prices were especially strong."
Economists polled by Reuters expected the industry's annual sales rate in April to come in at 16.2 million vehicles, which would be slightly slower than March. Analysts looked for industry sales in April to rise 9 percent.
All four of GM's U.S. brands reported year-to-year increases in April. Chevrolet and Cadillac were each up 5 percent, Buick jumped 12 percent, and GMC rose 13 percent.
Sales at both the Ford and Lincoln brands declined in April - Ford down 0.3 percent and Lincoln off 11 percent. Ford said April sales for its full-size F-Series pickup were the best since 2006.
Sales at Chrysler's Jeep line, which is to be the primary global brand of a merged Fiat and Chrysler expected later this year, rose 52 percent in April from a year earlier.
Jeep U.S. sales of 205,593 in the first four months of the year were 46 percent higher than a year earlier. Chrysler Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne has set a target of 1 million sales globally for Jeep for the year.
Chrysler's Ram truck sales rose 17 percent to 36,674 in the month and are up 23 percent so far this year.
Chrysler's Dodge brand sales were essentially the same in April as a year earlier. Dodge Caravan minivan sales rose 36 percent, but Dodge Dart sedan sales fell 26 percent.
Monthly auto sales are seen as an early snapshot of consumer demand for big-ticket items. Analysts and investors will be looking closely at demand for profitable trucks and where profit-sapping incentives offered by automakers are heading.
Reporting by Bernie Woodall and Paul Lienert; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Jeffrey Benkoe