By Jamison Cocklin
The Lordstown-built Chevrolet Cruze had its best sales month since December last month with sales increasing 21 percent over April 2012, the General Motors Co. reported Wednesday.
Dealerships sold 22,032 Cruzes in April, up from 18,205 a year earlier. Sales of the model had shot up 27 percent year-over-year in December, before they dropped in January and February.
They recovered in March when the model bucked the trend of sluggish domestic small-car sales.
Last month, the Cruze exceeded expectations of many analysts who thought a drop in gas prices would lead consumers to larger vehicles. This week, the national average for a gallon of regular grade gasoline is $3.52, according to automotive group AAA. That’s a drop of about 30 cents from the same time last year.
Typically, lower gas prices hurt small-car sales, said Alec Gutierrez, an analyst at Kelley Blue Book.
“I think it’s a testament to the strength of the Cruze itself,” Gutierrez added. “Even with comparable incentives on competing models and the release of a redesigned Ford Focus and Honda Civic, the Cruze did quite well.”
The same was true for GM as a whole. It reported Wednesday that sales across all its brands increased by 11 percent in April, compared with last year.
“Car buying conditions are strong and will continue to release pent-up demand,” said Kurt McNeil, vice president of U.S. sales operations at GM. “We’re very optimistic because GM’s market share is growing, the economy continues to move forward, and important car and truck launches are just getting underway.”
Indeed, North American sales have been among the bright spots for automakers this year, as sales in Europe have declined precipitously, with the struggling economy there weighing on consumers.
In all, GM sold 237,646 vehicles. Retail sales increased by 10 percent and fleet sales were up by 16 percent. All four GM brands posted higher total sales in April, with Chevrolet posting nearly an 11 percent gain, and Cadillac sales increasing by 34 percent.
Trucks, vans and SUVs continued to help the company’s bottom line in North America.
“A lot of small businesses are buying large trucks,” said Jesse Toprak, an analyst with the automotive information website TrueCar.com. “Consumers are also more comfortable pulling the trigger on vehicles that need replaced.”
Sales of GM’s twin trucks, the GMC Sierra and the Chevrolet Silverado, were up a combined 23.6 percent.
Meanwhile, Ford, Chrysler, and Nissan all posted strong gains in April when compared with last year. Hyundai posted a marginal sales bump, while Toyota was down slightly, and Volkswagen fell more than 10 percent.
Ford Motor Co.’s sales rose about 18 percent this April from last. The automaker’s venerable F-Series pickup — the bestselling vehicle in the U.S. for 36 years — rose about 24 percent in the same period.
Chrysler Group reported 11 percent growth in April. Chrysler’s Ram truck division saw sales rise 49 percent from a year earlier.
Small car sales were up 6 percent at GM. Analysts predict that the Cruze will continue to see increases given its performance as of late.
A different kind of business — natural gas drilling — is propelling sales at Bob and Chuck Eddy’s Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram dealership in Austintown. Chuck Eddy said energy industry workers from all over the country were coming in to buy trucks last month, keeping him in tight competition with a nearby Ford store.
“I’m selling heavy-duty trucks. We had people coming in from all over the country buying. We had a guy come in from Montana,” Eddy said.
Toprak, the analyst for the TrueCar.com, said full-size trucks made up around 11.5 percent of sales in April, up from around 10 percent last year. He expects them to top 12 percent of total sales - or nearly 2 million vehicles - by the fall of this year, when truck sales are usually strongest. Full-size truck sales peaked at 15 percent of the U.S. market in 2004.
The Associated Press contributed to this story