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April 2014 Car Sales Stay Aloft, Thanks To Long-Term Loans

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New-car sales in April added to this year's already strong performance, as nearly all the major manufacturers reported sales increases for the month.

Chrysler, GM, Toyota and Nissan sales rose, while Ford's slipped marginally. Volkswagen sales were down as well, while luxury brands like Mercedes-Benz and Audi continued a record-setting pace.

As the harsh winter yielded to a brisk spring, sales of big pickup trucks and SUVs continued to rise as well, with the Ford F-Series still gaining in its waning months before a brand-new truck goes on sale. Chrysler's Ram trucks and Chevy's Silverado also were up for the month.

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Prediction: sunny sales for summer

Predictions for the sales year ahead are still fairly rosy, with automakers and analysts counting on a bumper year of between 16 million and 16.5 million vehicle sales for 2014.

According to J.D. Power and LMC Automotive, April sales will come in at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 16.1 million vehicles, down slightly from March's 16.3 million units. LMC predicts sales will hit 16.1 million units for the year, up from 2013's 15.6 million units.

“Auto sales are hitting their stride as the spring selling season begins, and the pace has returned to the level expected at this stage of the recovery,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive.

Long-term loans the new normal

The sales rebound from the recession has been fueled, at least in part, by longer-term car loans. About a third of all buyers are now financing new cars for 72 months or more, which in turn is driving new-car spending higher and higher, according to analysts.

J.D. Power analysts say younger buyers in particular are going for longer term-financing. Some 44 percent of shoppers 35 years old and younger are choosing 72-month loans. The figure falls to 25 percent for buyers 55 years and older.

In all, buyers will spend $33.5 billion on new vehicles in April, an all-time high for the month.

Here are the sales figures reported by automakers for the month of April 2014:

General Motors: GM [NYSE:GM] says it sold 254,076 vehicles in April, up 7 percent from the year-ago period. Chevy sales rose 5.3 percent to 181,648 units, with the Impala up 27.2 percent,  and sales of the Chevy Volt up 18.5 percent, though the Malibu was off 8.2 percent. Buick was up to 19,214 units, a gain of 12 percent, with the Encore up 48 percent over its initial months of launch; Cadillac sold 13,900 vehicles, up 5.1 percent, with the XTS off 32.3 percent. GMC sales rose 13 percent, for its best April since 2007.

Ford: Ford Motor Co. [NYSE:F] sold 211,126 vehicles last month, off 1 percent from the same period a year ago. The Ford brand accounted for 204,323 sales, off by 0.3 percent. Lincoln was off 10.7 percent to 6,803 vehicles. Among individual models, the C-Max was off 41.5 percent and the Edge, down 28.8 percent, while the Expedition rose 35.2 percent. The F-Series posted a 7.4-percent gain, to its best April since 2006. The Lincoln MKZ was off 23.9 percent while the MKS was up 8.9 percent, a turnaround of fortune for the two sedans over recent months.

Toyota / Lexus / Scion: Toyota says it sold 199,660 units in April, up 9 percent on an adjusted basis, up 13.3 on an unadjusted basis.

Chrysler: Chrysler says it sold 178,652 units in April, up 14 percent. Jeep sales were up 52 percent for the month as the Patriot and Cherokee continue to be strong; the Cherokee was up 9 percent on the month, and the Patriot, 44 percent. Ram trucks were up 17 percent, for a best April ever; light-duty Ram sales were up 7 percent. Fiat sales rose 10 percent. Dodge sales were very slightly up--the Dodge Dart was off 26 percent, while the Caravan was up 36 percent--while the Chrysler brand was off 21 percent.

Honda / Acura: American Honda Motor Co. [NYSE:HMC] says it sold 132,456 vehicles in April, down 2.8 percent on an adjusted basis, up 1.1 percent on an unadjusted basis. Honda accounted for 118,334 sales, up 1.1 percent, with Acura picking up the pace at 14,122 sales, up 1.6 percent. Honda sold 34,124 Accords in April, up 1.7 percent; Acura MDX sales were up 80 percent.

Nissan / Infiniti: Nissan Motor Company [NASDAQ:NSANY] says it sold 103,934 vehicles in April, up 18.3 percent. The Nissan division accounted for 94,764 sales, up 18.5 percent, while Infiniti was up 16.9 percent, to 9,170 units. The Altima moved 25,004 copies for a 13.7-percent gain; Leaf electric-car sales were up 7.8 percent. Infiniti sales were strong, but the QX60 (nee JX35) was off 11.6 percent.

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