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The Chrysler logo is seen on top of its headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan April 30, 2009.

REBECCA COOK/REBECCA COOK/REUTERS

Chrysler Group LLC provided more evidence that its recovery is for real, outperforming its key rivals in both the Canadian and U.S. markets last month and hanging on to the vehicle sales lead in Canada.

Chrysler's U.S. sales rose 20 per cent in April, while deliveries for its two Detroit rivals and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. fell. Toyota Motor Corp. was the only other manufacturer among the top five to post an increase, with a 12 per cent rise.

A 3-per-cent increase for Chrysler Canada Inc., kept it in top spot and represented its best April performance since 2002.

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Vehicles sales overall meandered last month in both markets after posting robust first-quarter gains.

Canadians bought 2 per cent fewer vehicles in April than they did a year earlier. The seasonally adjusted annual selling rate in the United States was a little more than 14 million, or down slightly from the level of the first quarter.

Nonetheless, the strength in the U.S. market led General Motors Co. to raise its forecast for full-year sales to between 14 million and 14.5 million from an earlier outlook of between 13.5 million and 14 million vehicles.

"Over time, we believe that strength in the manufacturing sector, strong retail sales will continue to lead to more job creation," Don Johnson, GM's vice-president of U.S. sales operations, said on a conference call Tuesday.

"That is going to help more consumers put the recession behind them, gaining even more confidence and drive vehicle sales higher for both the industry and for GM this year."

U.S. dealerships were open three fewer days last month than in the previous April because of holidays, while the calendar reduced the number of selling days in Canada by two from April, 2011. The number of selling days normally fluctuates by one or two days so last month's sales figures may be less reliable an economic indicator than usual.

Chrysler's U.S. gains were led by its 200 mid-sized car, the Canadian-built Chrysler 300 full-sized sedan, and the Ram pickup truck.

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There was little consistency in the numbers on either side of the border.

U.S. sales of Ford Motor Co. 's Fiesta subcompact, for example, tumbled 44 per cent, while the Focus compact, one size higher, posted a 13-per-cent increase.

Toyota Canada Inc. reported a 3-per-cent decline in overall sales, but a record month for hybrid sales.

A gain of 4 per cent for Honda Canada Inc. was one of the better performances among the market leaders.

One key difference between this year and 2011 is that the playing field is level. Japan-based auto makers, for example, are not facing supply constraints because of tsunami- and earthquake-related disruptions like those that led to plant shutdowns last year.

"We have a situation now where every manufacturer is pretty much going all-out and does not have a lot of restrictions," said Tom Libby, lead North American forecasting analyst for research firm R.L. Polk & Co.

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In Canada, some car companies whose sales soared in the first quarter saw them pause last month, like luxury players Audi Canada and BMW Canada Inc. Audi sales rose 1 per cent in April, compared with a 16-per-cent jump in year-to-date sales. BMW sales fell 1 per cent compared with a 12-per-cent gain in January-through-April deliveries.

Mercedes-Benz Canada Inc. bucked that trend with a 14-per-cent rise, the same number it posted in the first four months.



With files from Associated Press

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About the Author
Auto and Steel Industry Reporter

Greg Keenan has covered the automotive and steel industries for The Globe and Mail since 1995. He also writes about broader manufacturing trends. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto and of the University of Western Ontario School of Journalism. More

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