As April sales trickled in this morning, all eyes were on GM. Would the automaker's recent ignition-switch recall — which affected some 2.6 million small cars, mostly from the 2000s, and reaped dozens of lawsuits and multiple investigations — drive new-car shoppers away from Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC dealerships?
Nope, not one bit. GM sales improved 6.9 percent in April versus a decent April 2013. Even the Chevrolet brand, whose erstwhile Cobalt and HHR headlined the recalls, gained 5.3 percent on the strength of the new Impala (up 27.2 percent) and redesigned full-size SUVs and pickup trucks, despite declines for popular cars like the Cruze, Malibu and Equinox. If faulty ignitions were part of the "old GM," as the automaker has emphasized, car shoppers evidently agreed.
GM's Detroit competitors had a mixed month. Chrysler gained 14 percent thanks to the Ram pickup, up 16.8 percent in part to higher purchase incentives versus April 2013. Shoppers snapped up Jeeps like the Rubicon Trail had become part of their commute: The Wrangler, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee SUVs all sold more than 15,000 units each. Ford, by contrast, fell 0.7 percent as shoppers shied away from the Escape and Focus.
Sales were up for the major Asian automakers, too. Buoyed by big gains among its small and midsize cars plus the Rogue SUV — up 26.6 percent to an April record of 15,066 sales — Nissan gained 18.3 percent over an already strong year-ago month. Big incentives to sell down the 2014 Toyota Camry sent the nameplate's sales up 19.9 percent; the redesigned Corolla needed no such incentives push to gain 19.7 percent. Including its Lexus and Scion subsidiaries, Toyota gained 13.3 percent.
Honda stayed roughly flat; a 4.4 percent gain in Civic sales returned the popular compact to the monthly best-sellers list after a two-month absence. Meanwhile, Hyundai shoppers preferred the Sonata (up 27.5 percent) over the Elantra (down 17.3 percent).
SUVs and pickup trucks took 16 of the top 20 spots in April's fastest-selling cars, and full-size pickups had plenty of shoppers. Sales for the group increased 10.1 percent in April as some of the big players — the Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra and Ram pickup — had higher year-over-year purchase incentives.
In fact, that was a trend across all new cars. Dealer and factory incentives increased by nearly $500 per car between April 2013 and early April 2014, according to CNW Marketing Research. That left the average transaction price per car at $32,257 in early April — down 0.8 percent versus April 2013, a rarity. Combine that with sustained economic traction from housing starts to the stock market and shoppers moved overall new-car sales up around 8 percent, judging by sales from the top seven automakers.
Here are April 2014's top 10 best-selling cars:
Cars.com photo by Evan Sears