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Ford Leads U.S. Carmakers’ Gains Building on 1Q Sweep

May 1 (Bloomberg) -- Bloomberg's Matt Miller reports that Ford Motor Company topped analyst estimates for April auto sales, climbing 18 percent on the strength of the Fusion and F-150 pickup. He speaks on Bloomberg Television's "In The Loop."

Ford Motor Co. (F), General Motors Co. (GM) and Chrysler Group LLC reported U.S. sales increases for April, building on their first sweep of market share gains in the first quarter of any year in two decades.

Ford sales of cars and light trucks rose 18 percent and GM and Chrysler deliveries both increased 11 percent, according to company statements. The average estimates of 11 analysts in a survey by Bloomberg were for gains of 17 percent by Ford and 10 percent each by GM and Fiat SpA (F)-controlled Chrysler.

The better-than-projected results follow Ford, GM and Chrysler all gaining U.S. market share in the first quarter for the first time since 1993. America’s automakers also outpaced their Japanese rivals last month, as Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) and Nissan Motor Co. reported sales that missed analysts’ estimates. Honda Motor Co.’s growth also trailed the three U.S. companies, which took advantage of rising demand for full-size pickups as the economy rebounds.

“Pickup sales are growing, and for the domestic manufacturers in particular, that’s a heck of a boon,” Larry Dominique, president of TrueCar Inc.’s ALG, said in a telephone interview. “Toyota is in a little bit of a holding pattern right now. They’re waiting for new product to come out and being pretty disciplined” with incentive spending.

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Getty Images

A Ford Fiesta at a dealership in Colma, California. Close

A Ford Fiesta at a dealership in Colma, California.

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Photographer: David Paul Morris/Getty Images

A Ford Fiesta at a dealership in Colma, California.

U.S. light-vehicle sales climbed 8.5 percent to 1.29 million, trailing the average estimate of nine analysts surveyed by Bloomberg for an 11 percent increase to 1.31 million. The annualized industry sales rate, adjusted for seasonal trends, rose to 14.9 million, missing the 15.2 million average of 17 estimates, from 14.1 million a year earlier.

Ford fell 1.7 percent to $13.38 at the close in New York. Detroit-based GM, which is poised to return to the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index in the next year, slipped 2.1 percent to $30.18.

Japan’s Automakers

Toyota sales declined 1.1 percent and Nissan’s rose 23 percent, the companies said in e-mailed statements. Both fell short of the average estimates of eight analysts, which were for increases of 3.1 percent for Toyota City, Japan-based Toyota and 26 percent for Nissan. Honda (7267) sales rose 7.4 percent, topping the 7.3 percent average of eight analyst estimates.

Deliveries rose 24 percent in April for Ford’s F-Series pickups and its Fusion sedan, while sales of its Escape compact sport-utility vehicle surged 52 percent, the Dearborn, Michigan- based company said today in a statement.

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

The Chrysler Jeep Grand Cherokee is unveiled at the 2013 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit on Jan. 14, 2013. Close

The Chrysler Jeep Grand Cherokee is unveiled at the 2013 North American International... Read More

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Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

The Chrysler Jeep Grand Cherokee is unveiled at the 2013 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit on Jan. 14, 2013.

Housing, Energy

“We’re seeing this continued strength of full-size pickup sales, particularly supported by the housing recovery and also the boom in the energy sector,” Jenny Lin, Ford’s senior U.S. economist, said today on a conference call. “The housing sector recovery is in full-swing.”

GM, which is introducing redesigned Chevrolet Silverado pickups this quarter, said sales of the outgoing version of the truck climbed 28 percent to 39,395 in April.

Deliveries for Chrysler, the third-largest U.S. automaker, increased for a 37th-consecutive month, led by a 49 percent jump for its Ram pickups. The Auburn Hills, Michigan-based company reported earlier this week that first-quarter net income slid 65 percent in part because introducing the new Ram Heavy Duty truck and Jeep Grand Cherokee and Compass SUVs raised costs and reduced output.

“When we come out of a recession, all automakers expect a boost, but remember that our Big Three make trucks,” Eric Noble, president of the Car Lab, an industry consultant in Orange, California, said today on Bloomberg Television. “If we look at where some of the big gains have been, it’s good, old- fashioned pickup truck sales for the Big Three.”

Share Gains

Ford, GM and Chrysler gained 0.7, 0.5 and 0.2 percentage points of market share during the first quarter, the first time all three gained ground in that period of a year since the SUV boom, according to Automotive News Data Center, which conducted the analysis at the request of Bloomberg News.

U.S. automakers’ strides have been building in the past half-decade after a painful downturn spurred restructurings that spared only Ford from bankruptcy. The three companies rid themselves of uncompetitive cost structures and plowed investments into cars that could hang with Japan’s giants.

The gains by U.S. automakers have been widespread. Ford’s Fusion, which ranked outside the 10 best-selling models last year, jumped to No. 6 this year through March. The 38 percent first-quarter sales increase posted by GM’s Cadillac was the largest of any brand in the industry during that span, while Chrysler’s passenger-car deliveries surged almost a third.

Toyota added 0.3 percentage points of U.S. market share through March, while Tokyo-based Honda’s was little changed and Nissan (7201), based in Yokohama, lost 0.7 points, according to researcher Autodata Corp.

Weaker Yen

Japan’s three largest automakers may test the resilience of U.S. automakers’ advances as they increasingly benefit from the declining value of the yen, said Michelle Krebs, an analyst for auto researcher Edmunds.com. The yen has weakened about 18 percent against the dollar since Oct. 31, the most among major currencies, after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe advocated for a decline to aid his country’s economy.

Detroit should celebrate while they can because the race is tight,” Krebs said today in an interview. “The Japanese have a yen advantage right now, and we could start seeing them use that in pricing and in extra marketing.”

Nissan said that it will cut prices on seven models including its Altima sedan and Rogue SUV, beginning this month. Altima sales surged 35 percent to 21,991 in April, trailing Ford’s 26,722 Fusion deliveries. Altima holds a lead over Fusion of 1,663 sales this year through the first four months.

Camry Drops

Deliveries of Toyota’s Camry fell 14 percent to 31,710 and Honda’s Accord declined 5.2 percent to 33,538. Camry still leads the mid-size car segment through the first four months at 132,540, followed by Accord’s 121,965, Altima’s 108,943 and Fusion’s 107,280.

Combined sales for Volkswagen AG (VOW)’s Volkswagen and Audi brands declined 4.6 percent, according to statements from the Wolfsburg, Germany-based company’s divisions. The automaker missed four analysts’ average estimate for a 3.3 percent gain in combined deliveries as sales of the Jetta and Passat dropped.

Hyundai Motor Co. (005380) and Kia Motors Corp. (000270) are losing some of the gains they made in the U.S. during the past two decades. The two Seoul-based affiliates, which report sales separately, lost 0.2 and 0.6 percentage points of market share respectively through the first three months, according to Autodata.

Combined sales for the two companies rose about 1 percent in April, beating seven analysts’ average estimate for a 2.4 percent decline. Deliveries for the Hyundai Elantra surged 45 percent and the Kia Optima gained 33 percent.

To contact the reporter on this story: Craig Trudell in Southfield, Michigan at ctrudell1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net

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