1 Japanese Automaker Was Left in the Dust As Its Competitors Sped Away in April

New vehicle sales in the U.S. surged ahead in April, continuing the momentum from late March after sales were reluctant to drive higher early this year. Nissan, Fiat Chrysler, and Toyota  (NYSE: TM  ) led the charge with double-digit gains and helped push the industry to its best back-to-back monthly sales pace since 2007. The industry's seasonally adjusted annual rate, or SAAR, increased to 16.1 million from 15.2 million a year earlier, and continues its steady move higher, as seen below. I previously covered America's big three automakers here, but let's take a closer look at results from the Japanese automakers and see which company was left in the dust.


Graph by author; SAAR data from Automotive News DataCenter

Toyota – 199,660 units – 13% increase
Toyota trailed only General Motors and Ford in terms of U.S. sales volume for the month of April. Toyota's impressive 13% gain was driven by strong sales gains from its popular cars, the Camry and Corolla. Sales of Toyota's Camry were up 20% to roughly 38,000 units in April, compared to last year. The story was much the same with its Corolla model, up the same 20% for just under 30,000 units in April.

Outside of its popular sedans, Toyota also had strong performances from its luxury lineup. Lexus posted sales of 23,165 units in April, which was a 28% increase over last year.

"The luxury segment has improved at a faster pace than the overall general industry through each of the first four months of the year," said Jeff Bracken, Lexus group vice president and general manager, in a press release. "The new IS and GX more than doubled sales in April compared to last year and six of eight Lexus vehicle lines posted gains for the month."

Overall, it was a strong month from Toyota -- even its truck segment posted a 16% sales increase, in a market where its Detroit competitors have long dominated. Breaking down Toyota's truck segment further, the Tacoma and Tundra accounted for sales gains of 7% and 23.5% to nearly 14,000 and just over 10,000 units, respectively, in April. Full-size trucks represent the most profitable segment in the U.S. market and Toyota's Tundra will have a tougher time gaining ground when Ford launches its next-generation F-150 later this year.

2014 Honda Accord. Photo: Honda Motor Co.

Nissan – 103,934 – 18% increase
Nissan was the best performing Japanese automaker in the U.S. during April, in terms of sales gains, but it remains behind Toyota and Honda in terms of total sales volume. Nissan's sales increase was driven primarily by its popular sedans, the Altima, Sentra, and Versa, which were up an average of 30.5% on a combined volume of nearly 50,000 units in April, according to IBTimes.com. Nissan's Rogue crossover, which has witnessed a spike in sales from its redesigned 2014 model, recorded a 26.6% increase in deliveries last month to over 15,000 units.

"Nissan maintained its strong momentum with our best-ever April sales and monthly sales records for important models like Altima, Rogue, Versa, LEAF and Juke," said Fred Diaz, senior vice president for Nissan U.S. sales, according to IBTimes.com.

Honda – 132,456 – 1% increase
While Honda  (NYSE: HMC  ) remains a healthy clip ahead of Nissan in terms of total sales, it's trending sideways with a mere 1% gain over last year's April performance. It managed to stay ahead of last year's April performance because of strong demand from its popular CR-V crossover, Accord, and Civic. Honda's CR-V posted a sales increase of 7.4% to 28,485 units while the Accord and Civic posted gains of 1.7% and 4.4% to 34,124 and 27,611 units in April, respectively. 

Honda's Acura brand only increased sales at a 1.6% clip, compared to last April, but sales of its SUV's continued to surge.

"With RDX posting two solid years of continuous growth and MDX sustaining its hot sales pace, our Acura SUVs continue to set the standard in the luxury light truck segment," said Mike Accavitti, Acura division senior vice president and general manager, in a press release.

Looking ahead, sales in the U.S. are expected to continue at a strong pace for all automakers -- interest rates should remain low, which combines well with a gradually improving housing and labor market. Japanese automakers will continue to focus on midsize sedans and crossover vehicles to gain market share in some of the largest and fastest growing segments in the U.S. market. 

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