US automakers report strongest sales in April

US SUVs and trucks powered auto sales rose 4.6% in April after several automakers reported their best totals in years.

The stylish and practical new SUVs are forcing automakers to discount sedans. A big drop in gas prices, to an average of $2.60 a gallon from $3.69 a year ago also worked in favor of SUVs.

Overall, sales were mostly in line with analysts' predictions of a 6% increase compared with a year ago. According to Eric Lyman, vice president of industry insights for Santa Monica, April's sales results may be the best since 2005. Sales of large and luxury sport utility vehicles soared 31% in the first quarter.

Lyman said, "Even if we're a little short of expectations, it's still a great month for the industry. It continues to lead the broader economic recovery".

Toyota reported a 1.8% sales increase to just over 203,000 with record sales of the RAV4 small SUV and Highlander midsize SUV. Erich Merkle, Ford's top sales analyst, said small SUVs accounted for almost 19% of industry sales last month, two percentage points higher than a year ago.

General Motors (GM), the top-selling automaker in the US posted a 5.9% increase and sold 269,000 vehicles. There was 42% rise in sales of the Chevrolet Equinox midsize SUV. Sales of the Buick Encore small SUV gained 29% to nearly 5,600.

However, the sales of Chevrolet Malibu midsize car Chevy Cruze compact fell nearly 13% and 4% respectively.

Ford Motor Co. posted a 5% gain for its best April in nine years. The company sold 26,000 Escape small SUVs, up nearly 5%.

GM sold 46,000 Chevrolet Silverado pickups for a gain of nearly an 8%. Sales of the Ram pickup, Fiat Chrysler U. S. LLC's top-selling vehicle, rose 3% to just under 38,000.