General Motors reported sales of 237,646 cars and trucks. Even with gas prices on the decline, compact cars remain popular. Sales of the Chevy Cruze rose 21 percent.
Nissan saw demand for the recently redesigned Altima midsize car and Sentra compact. The company also took a step toward boosting future sales. It announced price cuts on seven models that make up 65 percent of its U.S. sales. The cuts, effective on Friday, run from $580 on the top-selling Altima to $4,400, on the Armada big SUV.
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Volkswagen's sales drop was led by its top-seller, the Passat midsize car, which fell 10 percent.
Despite a slight drop, Toyota was optimistic about the rest of the year. Sales chief Bill Fay said the overall market increase is a good sign for all automakers, "especially with new products, low interest rates and plenty of pent-up demand."
Chrysler predicted that total U.S. sales will hit an annual rate of 15.4 million in April. That's a little higher than most analysts' predictions. April is likely to be the sixth straight month of sales above a 15 million yearly pace.
Barring an unexpected event that causes a real estate price collapse or rapidly rising job losses, there's little to stop sales from growing further in the next few years, industry analysts say.
"I don't see any significant hurdles on the horizon," said Alec Gutierrez, a senior market analyst at Kelley BlueBook. "I don't see us taking a step back, provided the unemployment rate at least holds steady."
He expects U.S. auto sales to end the year around 15.3 million cars and trucks, up 5.5 percent from last year's 14.5 million.
U.S. unemployment stands at a stubbornly high 7.6 percent, but that hasn't slowed auto sales much.
Aside from unemployment, almost every factor that affects car and truck sales is positive. Interest rates are low—the average four-year loan on a new car is 2.4 percent, according to Bankrate.com. Also, credit is widely available, even to those with low scores. Used-car values are high, so car buyers can get good trade-in value for their old cars. Lease deals are good. Gas prices have fallen since February.
In addition, home-building is on the rise, up 7 percent from February to March. That means better sales of big pickup trucks as companies and laborers return to the market. Kelley Blue Book expects big pickup sales to rise more than 26 percent in April over a year ago.
Many businesses and consumers need to replace older trucks and cars. The average age of a U.S. vehicle is 11.2 years. Plus, automakers have rolled out dozens of exciting new models in the past year, drawing buyers into showrooms.
"Relatively lower gas prices coupled with small business demand improving for trucks resulted in a strong showing for small and large pickups in April," said Jesse Toprak, senior analyst for the TrueCar.com auto pricing site.
One category that's soaring is small crossover SUVs. Sales rose an estimated 22.5 percent in April, according to Kelley Blue Book. Fuel-efficient models such as the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5 are driving sales, Gutierrez said.
Kelley Blue Book estimates that auto prices fell slightly in April compared with a year ago, to an average of $31,326.