- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 1, 2012

DETROIT (AP) — Toyota and Chrysler saw big U.S. sales gains in April, but they came at the expense of General Motors and Ford.

Automakers are reporting sales throughout Tuesday. When they’re finished, industry-wide sales are likely to rise only a little above April of 2011, and the annual pace is expected to slow somewhat from February and March. But automakers and analysts aren’t concerned, noting that this April had more Sundays than last year and fewer cars are sold on Sundays

Toyota sales rose 12 percent as its inventories finally returned to pre-earthquake levels. Chrysler posted a 20-percent rise in sales. Its top sellers included the Ram pickup and Chrysler 200 midsize sedan, which benefited from big rebates of $2,000 or more, analysts said.

GM sales declined 8 percent, hurt by new products and aggressive marketing from competitors. Ford sales fell 5 percent as demand for its Fiesta subcompact dropped. Buyers opted for the new Focus small car instead.

GM remained optimistic about industry-wide auto sales in the U.S. It increased its full-year forecast to 14 million to 14.5 million cars and trucks, up from 13.5 million to 14 million, citing strength in manufacturing and retail businesses that could boost employment. When more people have jobs, or feel good about hiring, they’re more likely to buy big-ticket items such as cars.

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Here’s what the Associated Press’ reporters are finding:

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TOYOTA IS BACK

Toyota has fully recovered from its factory slowdowns after last year’s Japan earthquake and Thailand flooding. It’s got some new products in the market like the Camry midsize sedan that are starting to regain market share, says Tom Libby, lead North American forecasting analyst for the Polk research firm.

“We have a situation now where every manufacturer is pretty much going all-out and does not have a lot of restrictions,” Libby says.

GM, though, doesn’t think one month doesn’t represent a permanent sales shift. Toyota, VW and Chrysler all had relatively low sales in April of 2011, and some were aggressive in selling cars to large fleet buyers, says Don Johnson, GM’s U.S. sales chief.

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FORD SLUMP

Ford sales were hurt on several fronts.

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