DETROIT - Small cars were the big winners in April, as high gas prices accelerated US consumers' rush away from trucks and sport utility vehicles and makers of fuel-efficient models scored gains despite the weak economy.
Pickup sales have been falling for months because of the slowdown in housing construction, and the trend away from SUVs began several years ago. But automakers and industry watchers said gas prices are speeding the trend.
"At $3 a gallon, there's a lot of discussion about the price of gasoline but not much change in behavior," said Mike Jackson, chief executive of
George Pipas, Ford's top sales analyst, said retail - or nonfleet - sales of passenger cars exceeded trucks and sport utility vehicles combined for the first time in at least 20 years. Pipas said a full-size truck is on the list of the top 10 vehicles being traded in for every small car in the industry.
General Motors Corp. said its truck and SUV sales fell 27 percent, outweighing increases in car and crossover sales and the company's best-ever month for hybrids. GM's overall sales dropped 16 percent for the month versus last April.
"Consumer preference is shifting, and we're shifting with it," said Mark LaNeve, GM's vice president of North American sales. Sales of the automakers' midsize Chevrolet Malibu shot up 40 percent, but the long-popular Chevrolet TrailBlazer SUV saw sales dip 73 percent.
GM said it produced 130,000 fewer vehicles in April due to an ongoing strike at supplier
Ford Motor Co. said its SUV sales dropped 36 percent in April and its overall sales fell 12 percent. Car sales edged down just 1 percent, buoyed by a 44 percent increase in sales of the Focus small car.
Toyota Motor Corp. said its car sales rose 12 percent, largely on the strength of the hybrid Prius, which was up 54 percent, and the subcompact Yaris, which saw sales rise 46 percent. Toyota's truck and SUV sales dropped 8 percent.