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U.S. saw sluggish 2.3% growth in light vehicle sales in April 2012, to 1.18 million units from 1.16 million units in the same month last year. Meanwhile, it rose 9.5% to seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 14.42 million units from 13.17 million units in April 2011.

The sluggish growth can be attributable to lower sales recorded by the two biggest players in the industry – General Motors Company (GM - Analyst Report) and Ford Motor Co. (F - Analyst Report) – and fewer selling days (due to more Sundays than April last year). But thanks to the fuel-efficient lineups and pent-up demand, the auto sales recovery has kept on track.

U.S. Automakers

GM sales dipped 8% to 213,387 units from last year due to lower sales to car rental companies. Three of its four brands (Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac) saw significant decline in sales. The remaining GMC brand reported a 4.5% increase in sales during the month.

The Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck was the company's hottest selling vehicle, with sales up 5% to 30,749 units. However, sales of its top selling sedan Cruze slashed 28% to 18,205 units.

Ford sales slid 5% to 180,350 vehicles due to shortages in production. The company’s top selling vehicle during the month was F-Series pickup trucks, which saw a 4% rise in sales to 47,453 units. Meanwhile, sales of the recently revamped models – Lincoln MKS sedan and MKT crossover – surged more than 50% during the month.

Chrysler Group LLC – controlled by Italy’s Fiat SpA (FIATY) – again reported its best month in four years. The automaker saw an impressive 20% rise in sales to 141,165 vehicles during the month, driven by higher incentives. Fiat 500, Chrysler 200, Dodge Challenger, Jeep Wrangler and Dodge Avenger were their top-selling vehicles during the month.

Japanese Automakers

Toyota Motor Corp.’s (TM - Analyst Report) sales grew 12% to 178,044 vehicles, driven by impressive sales of Camry and the Prius hybrid that offset lower sales of the Lexus luxury lineup. Sales of Camry surged 21% to 36,820 units while that of Prius doubled to 25,168 units from the prior year.

Honda Motor Co.’s (HMC - Analyst Report) sales inched down 2% to 122,012 vehicles due to lower car sales (5%) that more than offset the impact of higher truck sales (1%). Honda division sales including Fit, Accord, Odyssey and Pilot went down 3%, while the luxury Acura division saw a 5% rise in sales during the month.

Nissan Motors Co. (NSANY) recorded a marginal 0.3% fall in sales to 71,329 vehicles, partly due to lower sales of its biggest-selling vehicle Altima. Nissan Division sales fell 1% to 64,200 units, while sales of Infiniti vehicles went up 5% to 7,129 units during the month.

Other Automakers

Daimler AG’s (DDAIF) Mercedes-Benz sales scaled up 12% to 22,336 units. The higher sales were led by C-Class sedan (up 23%) and M-Class sport-utility vehicle (up 54%).

Volkswagen AG (VLKAY) sales shot up 31.5% to 37,525 units. The higher sales were attributable to redesigned Passat and Beetle models.

Hyundai Motor Co. sales inched up 1% to 62,264 units. The new Accent and Veloster small cars were the highly sought after model during the month.

Outlook

Strong pent-up demand and higher consumer confidence led by improving macroeconomic conditions in the U.S. will continue to revive the industry from recessionary lows. According to Jesse Toprak – vice president of the car-buying website TrueCar.com – total sales in the industry could go up to 14.5 million in 2012, up 13% from 12.8 million in 2011.

The good news is that a revival of the automotive industry will lead to a recovery in other industries as well, since the former generates demand for many products that are used in manufacturing the automotive components.

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