The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) was trading 115 points lower, or 0.70%, by midafternoon despite new data showing the U.S. trade deficit shrank 3.6% in March. As the nation boosted exports of oil, gas, and commercial aircraft, the trade gap narrowed to a seasonally adjusted $40.4 billion, according to the Commerce Department. A smaller trade deficit is typically seen as good for the economy as it means the U.S. is selling more goods and services globally, or buying less from foreign markets.
Despite the narrowing trade deficit, analysts believe the first-quarter gross domestic product could be revised downward to become the first quarterly contraction in three years.
"There is a very high chance that GDP will be revised to show a contraction in the first quarter, possibly in the neighborhood of minus 0.5 percent," said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics, according to Reuters.
With that in mind, here are two automakers making headlines today.
Outside the Dow, General Motors (NYSE: GM ) reported a 6.3% increase in Chinese sales last month, which was the company's slowest sales growth in 14 months. GM's sales in China checked in at just over 278,000 units in April and totaled nearly 1.2 million units through the first four months of the year. Leading the charge in April was GM's Buick and Chevrolet brands, which posted sales increases of 2.7% and 6.4%, respectively, to 68,707 and 53,810 units. While Cadillac's nearly 50% gain looks impressive, its sales volume just barely topped 6,000 units last month.
Volkswagen has captured the title of best-selling foreign automaker in China, the world's largest automotive market, although GM plans to fight to regain the title. General Motors plans to invest $12 billion to launch more than 60 new or refreshed models in China by the end of 2018, according to Bloomberg. The automaker also intends to increase its production capacity 65% by the end of the decade.
In other automotive news, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (NASDAQOTH: FIATY ) is planning a significant global push through its Jeep brand over the next five years. The plan is to double global sales to nearly 2 million vehicles by 2018, with much of the growth taking place abroad.
2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Source: Fiat Chrysler Automobile.
The ultimate goal is to reverse Jeep's recent decline by unleashing new vehicles that will help return Jeep to the No. 1 SUV brand in the world. This year will bring the launch of the smaller Jeep Renegade, which will be followed by a new compact SUV and a refreshed Cherokee in 2016. Then Jeep will introduce a new Wrangler and Grand Cherokee in 2017, followed by a new Grand Wagoneer a year later.
Potential investors, who are waiting for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to go public on the New York Stock Exchange, are optimistic regarding Jeep's potential. In fact, the brand's 85,000 sales last month was its highest monthly ever in its 73-year history, according to a company presentation today.
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