U.S. auto sales rose in April from recession-stunted results a year earlier, supported in part by incentives, led by Ford Motor Co and Hyundai Motor Co <005380.KS>.
Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T> sales rose more than 24 percent after it extended record company incentives for a second consecutive month to jump-start sales that had tumbled earlier in the year due to massive safety recalls.
The Toyota results fell short of Edmunds.com's forecast for a jump of nearly 33 percent in April after the automaker posted a 41 percent sales increase in March when it started the discounts.
General Motors Co posted a 6.4 percent sales increase from a year earlier, lagging the industry overall, but holding its position as the No. 1 seller in the United States by a wide margin in April over Ford. Toyota was third.
Chrysler sales rose 25 percent from a year earlier when the auto industry was bracing for bankruptcies by GM and Chrysler.
Chrysler filed for bankruptcy at the end of April 2009 and is now under management control of Italy's Fiat SpA . GM followed with a government-funded bankruptcy a month later.
Excluding its discontinuing brands, GM sales rose 20 percent in April from a year earlier.
We are putting the fundamentals together for a full-blown recovery, TrueCar.com analyst Jesse Toprak said, adding that April sales showed another month in a slow return in consumer demand that was demolished in the past two years.
It's slow, but we are on the right track, Toprak said.
Ford sales rose nearly 25 percent, led by a jump of more than 42 percent in F-Series pickup trucks and a 41 percent rise in its Escape sport-utility vehicle.
S&P equity analyst Efraim Levy said in a note that Ford's sales likely were good enough to gain market share for the month, but the slowdown from a 43 percent rise in March from a year earlier was something to watch.
SALES SEEN DOWN FROM MARCH
Ford shares were up 2.4 percent at $13.33 on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday afternoon
Hyundai sales rose 30 percent, setting a sales record for the month of April for the Korea-based automaker. Sales of its Sonata sedan rose 57 percent from a year earlier.
Honda Motor Co Ltd sales rose 12.5 percent and Nissan Motor Co Ltd <7201.T> is expected to post a sales increase that exceeds the industry overall.
On a sequential month basis, U.S. auto sales are expected to be down slightly from March with automakers trimming incentives as a whole, but with year-over-year sharp increases in incentives from Toyota .
Toyota's incentives were down 9 percent from March, but up more than 50 percent in April from a year earlier, according to Edmunds. The incentives still were below the industry average.
Hyundai, Ford and GM had sales momentum that allowed them to trim incentives and let their products sell themselves, Edmunds.com senior analyst Michelle Krebs said in a statement.
GM said its incentives were down slightly from March and down $1,100 per vehicle from April 2009.
The U.S. results follow a sharp jump in April sales in Spain that was supported by government incentives to scrap older vehicles, and a slight 1.9 percent car sales increase in France where such incentives were pared.
Automakers are still counting on a broad U.S. economic recovery to lift sales rather than costly incentives that hurt profit margins and used car prices.
Overall, the U.S. economic recovery would appear to be on track, however the pace isn't expected to be as robust as compared to other post-war recoveries -- kind of a slow and steady sort of scenario, GM Vice President of U.S. sales Steve Carlisle said on a conference call.
In the seasonally adjusted annualized rate economists track, GM estimated that U.S. auto sales in April would come in at about 11.1 million light vehicles, while Ford predicted a low to mid 11 million vehicle range for the month.
That result would mean a sharp increase from a 9.2 million vehicle annualized rate in April 2009, but a decline from the 11.8 million rate in March, according to Autodata Corp.
The industry in 2010 is expected to snap a four-year drop in U.S. auto sales that reached 10.4 million vehicles in 2009, the lowest total since the early 1980s even without adjusting for population increases.
U.S. auto sales were nearly 17 million vehicles in 2005 and industry experts believe a rebound to the 16 million vehicle range last reached in 2007 could take several years.
(Reporting by David Bailey, Soyoung Kim and Bernie Woodall, editing by Matthew Lewis)