US auto sales extended their winning streak in April as General Motors, Ford and Chrysler reported double digit growth Wednesday while rival Toyota posted a modest loss.
Hot new models and low interest rates lured customers into showrooms to replace aging vehicles they had held onto for far longer than usual as a result of the 2008 financial meltdown and subsequent deep economic downturn.
Total industry sales rose 8.5 percent in April and were up 6.9 percent for the first four months of the year, according to Autodata.
Demand came in below expectations at an annualized rate of 14.9 million vehicles after the five previous months posted performances around 15.3 million.
But automakers and analysts said economic conditions remain ripe for strong growth in the coming months.
"Car-buying conditions are strong and will continue to release pent-up demand," said GM sales chief Kurt McNeil, adding that GM expects the industry sales pace to stay in the 15 to 15.5 million range for the rest of the year.
"When credit is available and affordable, the job market is stable, and income and household wealth are increasing, good things happen," he said in a conference call.
Ford economist Jenny Lin said pickup truck sales have been particularly robust thanks to the fact that the housing sector's recovery is "in full swing."
"Encouragingly, consumer spending growth pace is picking up," Lin added.
Ford managed to beat forecasts by reporting an 18 percent gain to 212,584 vehicles, in what was the number two US automaker's best April since 2007.
Chrysler also posted its best April results in six years as sales rose 11 percent to 156,698 vehicles.
The number three US automaker has now posted 37 consecutive months of sales gains.
"Our sales last month were solid across the board with seven Chrysler Group vehicles recording their best April sales ever," Chrysler sales chief Reid Bigland said in a statement.
GM marked its best April in five years after sales rose 11 percent to 237,646 vehicles.
"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," McNeil said.
The Detroit Three automakers all posted market share gains in April and together won 46.9 percent of their home market, up from 44.8 percent in April 2012, according to Autodata.
GM, Ford and Chrysler commanded 65 percent of the market as recently as 2000, according to Ward's Auto.
Their share first fell below 50 percent in 2008 after years of painful restructuring that led to mass plant closures and the shedding of numerous brands.
They have been slowly regaining share as the economy recovers from the 2008 crash thanks to major product revamps and significant management changes, including the 2009 bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler.
Japanese rival Toyota meanwhile gave up 1.3 points of share as its sales fell 1.1 percent to 176,160 vehicles in April.
But the automaker forecast a better performance in the coming months once its new products hit showrooms.
"From an industry standpoint, continued retail sales growth indicates the underlying strength of the market, which is a great sign for the months ahead, especially with new products, low interest rates and plenty of pent up demand," said Bill Fay, general manager of Toyota Motor Sales, USA.
Honda held its own as sales rose 7.4 percent to 130,999 vehicles.
Nissan, which recently cut prices to boost sales, posted a whopping 23 percent gain to 87,847 vehicles as its share expanded by nearly a full point to 6.8 percent, according to Autodata.