Japanese Auto Sales Outpace U.S. Makers

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Ford and General Motors reported sagging sales for April. But Japanese automakers such as Toyota, Honda and Nissan made double-digit gains. With gasoline prices at well over $2 per gallon, many Americans have lost their appetite for big, gas-guzzling SUVs.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

On Wednesdays we focus on the workplace, and one way to get there is by car.

American automakers Ford and General Motors are in a sales slump even as cars made by rival Japanese companies are racing off the lot. With gasoline now selling for well over $2 a gallon, many Americans have lost their appetite for big gas-guzzling SUVs. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY reporting:

Last month, Toyota sold more cars in the United States than ever before. But over at the Ford and GM dealerships, sales were stuck in reverse. GM sales were almost 8 percent lower in April than they were a year ago, and Ford sales were off more than 5 percent. Industry analyst Phil Guzik(ph) of Morningstar says those shiny Explorers and Suburbans don't look so good when you have to empty your wallet to fill the gas tank.

Mr. PHIL GUZIK (Morningstar): Consumers are definitely buying fewer large gas-guzzling SUVs. The American automakers are not well positioned. Their strength has been the large SUVs based on truck platforms, and they've been making most of their profit off of those vehicles, and those are the exact vehicles that are getting hit. So fuel economy trends are only accelerating the shift.

HORSLEY: Meanwhile, Japanese automakers are grabbing market share. Honda sales were up more than 13 percent last month, Toyota sales rose 21 percent, and Nissan sales soared 27 percent. Toyota sold three times as many gas-electric hybrids in April as it did a year ago, but analyst Rebecca Lindland of Global Insight says hybrids like the Toyota Prius remain a small part of the market.

Ms. REBECCA LINDLAND (Global Insight): We really don't anticipate that hybrids are gonna be any more than, like, 500,000 units in any given year. Just to put that into perspective for you, the Dodge Ram pickup truck sells 400,000 units a year. So we're not talking that hybrids are ever really gonna take over the market.

HORSLEY: Japanese carmakers are also pushing traditional sedans and smaller SUVs. Honda makes its own line of hybrids, but its biggest sales gains last month came in light trucks. Scott Horsley, NPR News.

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