April auto sales down 18 percent from last year

May 05, 1991|By Amy Harmon | Amy Harmon,Los Angeles Times

DETROIT -- April sales of cars and trucks tumbled 17.9 percent from a year ago, automakers reported Friday, crushing any hopes that the slight quickening of the sales pace in March was the beginning of a steady recovery.

Imported and domestically built vehicles sold at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 11.2 million, down from March's more encouraging 12.4 million. Battered by war, recession and drooping consumer confidence, auto sales have been depressed for almost a year. In April 1990, vehicles sold at an annual rate of 13.8 million.

"The market fundamentals really have not improved significantly through April -- they've deteriorated," said Susan Jacobs, an analyst with Jacobs Automotive in Little Falls, N.J. "The weakness in the economy is what is holding the sales rate down."

Analysts and industry executives say one bright spot in the perpetually gloomy auto industry numbers is that dealer stocks of cars and trucks are relatively low. Although inventories are thought to have increased slightly last month, the most recent figures show that at the end of March dealers on average had a manageable 73-day supply of cars and trucks on their lots.

"Inventories are in good shape because dealers sold down their stocks to avoid high interest rates and the overall uncertainties of the economy," Chrysler Corp. Chairman Lee A. Iacocca said last week, highlighting the good points in an otherwise dismal first-quarter earnings report.

General Motors Corp. said sales of cars and trucks fell 19.8 percent last month. Ford Motor Co. attributed part of its 23.8 percent decline to delivery of a lower than usual number of cars to fleet customers, including daily rental companies. Chrysler sales, boosted by their minivans, were down 9.4 percent.

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