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April car sales: Car buyers look to small cars as gas prices rise

Consumer Reports News: May 03, 2011 05:08 PM

With the aftermath of the Japan tragedies and gasoline prices increasing, automakers faced serious challenges selling cars in April. However, the latest numbers show that sales are higher this year than 2010 mostly due to increased interest in fuel-efficient models. While most manufacturers posted an up-tick this April compared to last year, Toyota dropped 2 percent. In the electric car race, the Chevrolet Volt sold almost 700 models more than Nissan’s Leaf. Here are the details:

Chrysler sales increased 22 percent and marked the 13th month of year-over-year gains. Despite the rise in pump prices, the Jeep brand had strong sales including the Compass, Grand Cherokee, and Patriot.

General Motors had a good April and continues to be the top-selling automaker in the United States, with a 27 percent increase over last year. The Chevrolet Cruze made strong gains and was the second-best seller in the company, behind the Silverado pickup, with over 25,000 sold. Other high-selling vehicles include the Equinox, Impala, and Malibu.

Ford stayed in the second spot behind GM with an increase of over 24 percent. Sales of the new fuel-efficient Ford Focus and Fusion were strong, as well as the redesigned Ford Explorer. The Ford F-Series pickup continues to be the top-selling vehicle in America.

Honda reported an increase of 5.7 percent with sales of their fuel sippers topping the list including the Fit and Insight. The new Civic just went on sale less than two weeks ago, but still claimed a 3 percent gain over last year.

Hyundai’s thrifty vehicles helped the company increase sales 40 percent over last year. The top seller was the new Elantra, which posted a 129 percent gain over last year. The Sonata also did well with a 17 percent boost. These two vehicles both saw sales top 20,000 units--the first time that has happened in the same month with two different models.

Nissan sales increased over 12 percent compared to April 2010. Gas-friendly vehicles such as the Altima, Rogue, and Sentra posted strong sales.

Subaru had a 14 percent gain and its best April on record. The Outback and Impreza increased by double digits, but the Forester dropped almost 12 percent.

Toyota stayed in the number-three position behind GM and Ford, but decreased over two percent from April 2010. Due to supply chain disruptions after the earthquake and tsunami, sales of some of their most fuel-efficient models decreased including the Corolla, Prius, and Yaris. However, the Camry narrowly jumped ahead of its competitor, the Accord, to regain the title of best selling vehicle (besides pickups) in the United States. The Sienna and Highlander both increased in sales this month.

It is unclear whether the aftermath of the disasters in Japan was the reason for a decrease or smaller increase in the sales from the major Japanese automakers, but it is clear there is much more American competition for fuel-efficient vehicles. It is likely these fuel-efficient cars will continue to do well as many people are opting to downsize their gas-guzzler in response to the higher costs at the pump.

How higher gas prices impact that appeal of car downsizing
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Downsizing: Choosing a used car to save gas and money
Downsizing: Right-sizing the sedan fuel bill is no easy challenge
Downsizing your SUV for better mpg—does it make cents?
How to know when it’s time to downsize your car
Downsizing: The 12 most useful cars per mpg
Survey shows car downsizing is in, but not for everyone

Liza Barth

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