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U.S. Auto Sales Up; High Demand For Fuel-Efficiency; General Motors, 2011 Ford Explorer.

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On: Wed, May 4, 2011 at 2:57PM | By: Tim Healey

U.S. Auto Sales Up; High Demand For Fuel-Efficiency; General Motors, 2011 Ford Explorer.

American auto sales rose 18 percent last month, due to new models and better fuel-efficiency. The seasonally adjusted annual sales rate now stands at 13.2 million, which is the third straight month that it's been over 13 million. Despite supply problems and rising fuel prices, every automaker posted sales gains as the industry as a whole saw its second largest percentage gain for the year.

Kia and parent Hyundai saw a combined gain of 47 percent, but Toyota, Nissan, and Honda all lost market share due to supply problems caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. General Motors and Chrysler saw gains in share.

Experts say that a broader overall economic recovery gets some of the credit, as more people find jobs and income with which to replace aging vehicles. Overall, U.S. auto sales are up 20 percent for the year. This is despite mixed signals surrounding the broader economic recovery and rising gas prices.

Those rising gas prices are affecting the mix of vehicles sold. Case in point: General Motors saw a 50 percent gain in cars sold, while large pickups were up just 2 percent, and some of the company's large SUVs suffered sales slumps.

Ford's sales were up 13 percent, with the Ford brand rising 24 percent on the strength of the redesigned 2011 F-150 pickup and the redesigned 2011 Ford Explorer.

Hyundai rose 40 percent, thanks to the success of the redesigned 2011 Elantra compact, while Nissan used sales of its more fuel-efficient models, such as the Sentra compact and Leaf all-electric car, to offset a dip in SUV sales. Overall, Nissan was up 12 percent.

The shift in product mix to more fuel-efficient cars is predictable, and it's clear that the economy is improving, albeit slowly. Of course, after 2009 and 2010, automakers had nowhere to go but up, and 13.2 million units a year is a far cry from the 16 or 17 million that were being sold during the boom times.

Still, these numbers offer signs of hope for automakers. If sales keep rising, not only will the industry have a rosier outlook, but consumers might jump back into the game before transaction prices jump too high.


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