General Motors
A General Motors Chevrolet dealership is shown April 24, 2014 in Royal Oak, Michigan. Getty Images

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The world’s “Big 8” automakers are releasing April U.S. monthly sales figures throughout the day Thursday.

Forecasts expect new-vehicle deliveries to touch around 1.4 million units, down from 1.53 million in March, which exceeded analysts’ forecast by about 400,000 autos as Americans flocked to showrooms in the last days of the month. Industry analysts foresee 9.1 percent growth last month compared to April 2013.

U.S. new auto sales data offer an early monthly glimpse into the state of U.S. consumer confidence and the health of this important manufacturing sector. The industry, including auto parts making but excluding dealerships, increased hiring by 34, 300 workers in the 12 months prior to March, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hiring has increased by about 11,000 workers since January.

The seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR), a 12-month running estimate that reflects the health of the automotive market, is expected to come in at 16.2 million, down from the previous month’s 16.4 million but in line to meet the forecast for the year in the world’s second-largest automobile market after China.

March sales tend to be more robust than April’s because it is the end of the fiscal year in Japan, a month when that country's domestic automakers make their final push to meet or exceed annual sales targets. It’s also a month when a lot of Americans receive their income tax returns, which average about $800, or enough to encourage a down payment on a financed vehicle. The improved weather conditions toward the end of March also helped pump up sales volume. Most analysts expect April to benefit from this momentum, but the month is typically slower than the ones that precede and follow it.

The unusually harsh winter weather has been blamed for lower-than-expected sales at the start of the year. February’s SAAR hit 15.3 million, which missed the consensus estimate of about 15.5 million.

UPDATE 3:53 p.m. EDT – Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc.

The U.S. subsidiary of the world’s largest automaker by sales volume said Thursday it delivered 13.3 percent more vehicles in April than in the same month last year with growth in all of the company’s core models. Toyota brand cars increased 8.6 percent to 97,724 with the newly designed Corolla up 20 percent.

UPDATE 3:14 p.m. EDT – American Honda Motor Co.

Honda sold 1.1 percent more cars last month compared to April 2013, to 132,456 units. The U.S. subsidiary of the Japanese auto giant managed to eke out slight growth on strong demand for its best-sellers, the CR-V crossover, whose sales jumped 7.4 percent to 28,485 units; the Accord sedan (up 1.7 percent to 34,124); and the Civic compact (up 4.4 percent to 27,611).

All for models of Acura cars saw sales fall, but deliveries of the luxury Acura MDX, whose third generation model debuted in showrooms last summer, jumped 80 percent to 5,180.

UPDATE 3:03 p.m. EDT – Kia Motors America, Inc.

Kia Motors announces Thursday an 11 percent increase in U.S. sales last month compared to the previous year based largely on rising year-over-year demand for the Forte and Soul compacts. Deliveries slipped for the best-selling Optima sedan, by less than a percentage point, but that slide was more than made up for by sales of the Kia’s smaller cars.

UPDATE 1:46 p.m. EDT – Hyundai Motor America

The bigger of the South Korean auto-making siblings (the other being Kia Motors) reported Thursday a 4.4 percent increase in U.S. volume sales to 66,107 units in part because demand for its best-seller, the Sonata mid-sized car.

Out of the seven Hyundai models that sold more than 1,000 units last month, four saw increases in year-over-year volume, led by Sonata’s 27 percent jump to 20,495. Deliveries of the Elantra compact dropped 17 percent to 20,225. By comparison of April 2014 and last month the two models have switched places as the top selling Hyundai in America.

Coming in a distant third by volume sales at 8,997 units is the Santa Fe, but the crossover sales jumped almost 30 percent year-over-year. The Accent subcompact saw similar momentum, rising almost 36 percent to 6,419.

UPDATE: 12:32 p.m. EDT – Nissan North America Inc.

Nissan’s U.S. subsidiary said Thursday it delivered over 18 percent more of its vehicles in April compared to the April 2013 led by double-digit year-over-year growth for the Japanese automakers best-selling sedans and recent product redesigns

“Nissan maintained its strong momentum with our best-ever April sales and monthly sales records for important models like Altima, Rogue, Versa, LEAF and Juke,” Fred Diaz, senior vice president for Nissan U.S. sales said in an email.

The company’s widely watched LEAF, the world’s best-selling all-electric car, has seen a 33 percent increase in sales, albeit on low volume of 7,272 units since January. Deliveries in the luxury Infiniti division increased 17 percent on robust demand for its cars and despite a decline in SUVs.

Nissan’s April Winners

Nissan’s best-selling sedans, the Altima, the Sentra and the Versa were up an average of 30.5 percent on combined volume of 49,565 units. These three models represented 48 percent of all Nissan Group deliveries for the month (including Infiniti) and 84 percent of Nissan car sales.

The Rogue compact crossover has received a bump thanks to the 2014 model that went on sale in November. Deliveries were up last month by 26.6 percent to 15,066 vehicles.

Frontier pickup truck sales increased 10.5 percent to 5,697.

Nissan’s April Losers

Deliveries of the Maxima sedan, which hasn’t seen a major redesign since 2009, declined 17.6 percent to 2,206.

Pathfinder sales fell 5.7 percent to 6,105. The last significant redesign for the crossover occurred for the 2013 model year.

The Infiniti G37 entry-level luxury sedan, which was replaced in the current model year by the Q50, saw sales drop 43 percent as consumers gravitated to the Q50 that entered the market in the third quarter of last year.

UPDATE 11:16 a.m. EDT – General Motors Co. (NYSE:GM)

The Detroit automaker announced Thursday sales were up in April by 7 percent to 254,076 vehicles with Buick and GMC sales up in the double digits, the highest April sales metric for the GM two brands since before the 2008/09 automotive industry crisis.

The world’s third-largest car company based on total unit sales estimates the seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR), a 12-month running estimate that reflects the health of the U.S. automotive market, will be 16.1 million, at the low end of an industry-wide estimated of between 16 and 16.5 million new-vehicles sales for 2014.

GM’s inventory is high right now, at 825,805 vehicles in stock. That’s an 85-day supply that exceed the 60 days that are considered ideal. This means GM, consistently the largest seller in the U.S. market, will need to push incentives such as rebates to draw down its inventory. High inventories can also mean that demand is waning, though industry watchers have been blaming the winter weather for this buildup.

“Retail demand was steady in April,” Kurt McNeil, U.S. vice president of sales, said in announcing the sales data, referring to sales directly to customers that excludes bulk-purchase deliveries by government agencies and corporations, especially car rental companies.

Sales were up for all four of GM’s divisions. Chevrolet sales, which make up over two-thirds of all GM deliveries, were up 5.3 percent.

GM’s April Winners

The new 2014 Cadillac CTS mid-sized luxury sedan sales were up 36.4 percent to 3,270.

Buick Encore crossover sales grew 48 percent compared to the previous April, to 4,317.

Deliveries of the Chevrolet Impala full-sized sedan increased 27 percent to 13,915.

GM’s April Losers

The Chevy Equinox, the company’s best-selling crossover, saw sales decline 3 percent to 20,315.

Sales of the GMC Acadia full-sized SUV dropped 6 percent to 6,283.

Cadillac XTS full-sized luxury sedan deliveries declined 32 percent to 1,958.

UPDATE 10:37 a.m. EDT – Volkswagen of America Inc.

The world’s second-largest auto group by sales volume has been losing market share in the U.S. for the past year as its product line weighs heavily toward the sedan segment that has been losing ground to crossover SUVs. The U.S. subsidiary of the Wolfsburg, Germany, owner of the Audi and Bugatti brands said Thursday sales declined 8.4 percent despite increases in deliveries of key models.

“April was a strong month for TDI Clean Diesels and we are thrilled to see more consumers lured by the fuel economy and range benefits these engines provide, Mark McNabb, chief operating officer of Volkswagen of America, said in a statement announcing the monthly figures.

For the month, only three of the company’s models registered sales growth.

Volkswagen’s April Winners

Jetta SportsWagen deliveries increased 5.5 percent to 2,076 units in April, reversing a recent trend that has sales of the wagon down in the first four months of the year compared to the same period last year.

Consumers bought 2.7 percent more Passat full-sized sedans last month compared to April 2013, to 9,315 units.

Sales of the Touareg mid-sized luxury crossover saw a 3.3 percent increase on small volume of 597 units.

Volkswagen’s April Losers

The company’s minis continue to lose as they have for much of the last year. Combined sales of the Golf, Golf R and GTI were down 31 percent compared with the same month last year, to 1,798 units.

Beetle compact and Beetle Convertible sales declined 28.1 percent to 1,282.

Tiguan compact crossover delivers were down last month by nearly 20 percent to 1,998.

UPDATE: 10:09 a.m. EDT – Ford Motor Co. (NYSE:F)

Ford Motor Co. (NYSE:F) announced Thursday it sold 1 percent fewer vehicles in April compared to the same month last year. Only luxury Lincoln SUVs and Ford trucks saw growth last month while Ford car deliveries declined 8.5 percent.

“F-Series and Explorer showed considerable strength in April, posting their best results in almost a decade,” John Felice, Ford vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, said in the announcement of the new data.

With five of the “Big 8” global automakers reporting numbers, Ford joins Volkswagen in announcing negative year-over-year sales growth as consumers strayed from key models like the Focus compact and the Fusion mid-sized sedan. The Dearborn, Michigan, company also saw declines in crossover sales at a time when Americans are gravitating to the segment.

Ford’s April Winners

All four of the company’s light-duty and heavy trucks saw year-over-year increases. In percentage terms the Transit Connect utility van led with 29 percent growth on light volume of 3,573 units. The important F-Series pickup, the best-selling vehicle in the United States, saw a modest 7.4 percent uptick in sales to 63,387, representing nearly a third of all Ford-brand vehicles delivered last month.

Deliveries of the Explorer SUV increased 17 percent to 16,629 while Ford’s other utility vehicles offers declined.

Sales of the luxury Lincoln MKX five-seat crossover increased 5.1 percent to 1,828 units.

Ford’s April Losers

Ford Focus sales fell 15.3 percent to 19,104 while all of the company’s Ford-brand cars retreated.

The Fusion, Ford’s best-selling sedan that represents about 40 percent of Ford car division sales, retreated 1.1 percent to 26,435 units.

The Lincoln MKZ mid-sized entry level luxury car saw sales decline 24 percent to 3,054.

8:55 a.m. EDT: BREAKING

Ford Motor Co. (NYSE:F) announced Thursday that President and CEO Alan Mulally is stepping down as of July 1. The 68-year-old former Boeing engineer to ascend to Ford’s throne in 2006 escorted the Dearborn, Michigan, company though the tumultuous auto industry crisis in 2009.

Ford is widely lauded for being the one Detroit 3 automaker that avoided Chapter 11 reorganization and a taxpayer-subsidized bailout. General Motors took $11.2 billion in public money while Chrysler took nearly $2 billion.

“Mulally will be seen as the man who saved Ford. He came in after a series of failed leaders that had allowed Ford's product and position to deteriorate to a precarious position,” Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, said in an email. “He also managed to secure financing for Ford's turnaround before the credit crunch, though that could be argued as a negative because it saddled Ford with private debt that Chrysler and GM were able to cast off as part of their government restructuring.”

Even prior to the 2008-09 industry crisis, Mulally began restructuring Ford by mortgaging its assets and borrowing nearly $24 billion. He cut costs and oversaw the implementation of the so-called One Ford strategy for global streamlining. He also stepped up the company’s efforts to expand in China, where the company is a relative latecomer.

Mulally will be replaced by Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields, 53, who helped Mulally restructure the company.

8:27 a.m. EDT: Chrysler Group LLC

The Auburn Hills, Michigan-based automaker announced Thursday its April sales volume increased 14 percent compared to the same month last year as consumers embraced the new Jeep Cherokee and the Ram pickup truck, which in a surprise twist outsold the Chevy Silverado from General Motors Co. (NYSE:GM) in March to be the second bestselling truck in this competitive vehicle segment.

“Strong consumer demand for our Jeep sport-utility vehicles and Ram pickup trucks continued in April as Chrysler Group extended its streak to 49-consecutive months of year-over-year sales gains,” Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales, said.

“The spring selling season is heating up as our Jeep brand had its best monthly sales ever,” Bigland said in a statement announcing the new data. “Both of our minivans had a strong April and the Ram pickup truck had its best April sales ever.”

Chrysler’s April Winners

In addition to a strong start for the Jeep Cherokee mid-sized crossover, which went on sale in November, the Jeep Patriot compact crossover and Jeep Wrangler compact SUV set April sales records with 44 percent and 14 percent year-over year growth, respectively.

Ram sales increased 14 percent to 36,674, which represents about one in four of all Chrysler truck (including SUV and crossover) sales in April.

Deliveries of the Dodge Caravan, the most popular minivan in the U.S. market, increased 36 percent to 13,352.

Chrysler’s April Losers

The Fiat 500 city car sales fell 22 percent to 3,041 as Chrysler owner Fiat SpA (BIT:F) continued to experience lackluster U.S. demand for the Italian mini that’s manufactured at Chrysler’s plant in Toluca, Mexico.

The pre-2015 Chrysler 200 mid-sized car is experiencing the end of its product cycle as the newly revamped model starts to head to dealerships. The 66 percent decline in year-over-year sales reflects the transition.

Deliveries of the Dodge Avenger mid-sized sedan fell 32 percent to 7,324.