By David Undercoffler
5:21 PM EDT, May 1, 2013
Lower gas prices and a rebounding economy are pulling more auto buyers into crossover SUVs and boosting pickup truck sales, April auto sales data indicate.
Honda, Nissan and Subaru reported monthly sales Wednesday, showing increases from April 2012 to April 2013 that were largely on the success of crossovers.
Only Hyundai bucked the trend. Although sales for the Korean automaker were up 2% in April compared with a year earlier, much of its gains were from increased sales of its compact Elantra and its full-size Azera sedan.
Meanwhile, luxury brands such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi each posted noticeable gains.
Toyota’s April sales, including Scion and Lexus, were down 1.1% from a year earlier, to 176,160 vehicles. The automaker’s biggest winner was its all-new Rav4, which posted a healthy 22% gain from April 2012.
Although much of this growth is the result of a complete redesign of the popular compact crossover for 2013, it’s also competing in a segment that has doubled in market share since 2007, said Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book.
"Anyone who competes in this segment is going to see a nice boost for the foreseeable future," Gutierrez said. "They’re very, very practical, and you don’t pay much of a penalty for fuel efficiency" over a comparable sedan, Gutierrez said.
The success of other compact crossovers in the market backs this up. April sales of Honda’s CR-V were up 12.2% to 26,519 from April 2012. Sales of Nissan’s Rogue jumped 39% to 11,904 units.
Finally, Subaru’s all-new Forester crossover surged 65% to 9,336, which helped the automaker to its best-ever April: 32,943 vehicles sold, a 25% increase over April 2012.
Unfortunately, Toyota’s success with the Rav4 -- and a 17.3% growth in pickup trucks -- was offset by marked declines in two of its most popular cars: the Prius and the Camry. Sales of these two models were down 21% and 14%, respectively.
The decline in Prius sales was largely the result of lower gas prices. The slowdown in Camry sales, Toyota’s bestselling vehicle for years, wasn’t a surprise, Gutierrez said.
"We’ve been anticipating this for a little while," he said. "The Camry is no longer the freshest game in town, and last year it was competing against older competitors."
Since April 2012, Camry rivals such as the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion have all been redesigned, giving buyers more competitive choices, Gutierrez said.
Honda’s Accord also saw a sales decrease, but by a smaller margin. It was down 5.2% to 33,538 in April from a year earlier.
Yet overall, Honda and its luxury brand Acura reported 130,999 vehicles sold in April, an increase of 7.4% percent from April 2012. This jump was the result of double-digit percentage increases in sales of Honda’s compact Fit hatchback, Odyssey minivan and seven-passenger Pilot SUV.
Honda’s struggling Acura luxury division saw decreases on all of its vehicles, save for the RDX. Sales of this compact crossover more than doubled, leading to a 14.2% increase for Acura overall from April 2012.
In addition to strong increases with its Rogue, Nissan also rode large gains from its all-electric Leaf and a thoroughly refreshed lineup that includes the Pathfinder SUV, Altima sedan and Sentra compact.
The automaker’s sales were up 24.6% in April from April 2012. Together with its Infiniti luxury brand, Nissan sold 80,003 vehicles in April.
Finally, the German luxury brands also saw increased sales. Audi had the largest increase, with a 14.2% boost to 13,157 vehicles sold in April compared with the same month last year. The biggest contributors to the increase were the company’s two SUVs, the Q5 crossover and the full-size Q7.
BMW sales were up 10.3% to 23,225 largely because of a 46.8% increase in sales of its 5-Series sedan.
Mercedes-Benz rounded out the trio with a 5.8% increase from April 2012 to 23,625 vehicles.
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