DETROIT — U.S. car buyers came out of hibernation in April to spend on pickups and SUVs, fueling an auto sales rebound that analysts expect to last the rest of the year.
Total sales grew to just under 1.4 million cars and trucks, up about 8 percent from a year ago. Sales ran at an annual rate of just over 16 million, according to Autodata Corp.
Nissan led the way with an 18.3 percent increase over a year ago, with sales of the redesigned Rogue small SUV up almost 27 percent. Chrysler posted a 14 percent gain, boosted by a big jump in sales of Jeep SUVs. Both companies reported record April sales. Toyota sales grew by 13 percent, led by a double-digit gain in truck sales.
General Motors, which has suffered through bad publicity from a string of embarrassing safety recalls, posted a 7 percent gain, led by the Buick Encore small SUV and the Chevy Silverado pickup. And Hyundai sales rose a little more than 4 percent on strong SUV sales.
But there were some soft spots.
Honda sales grew only 1 percent, while Ford sales fell 1 percent. Ford's car sales sputtered, although sales of its F-Series pickup, the bestselling vehicle in the U.S., rose 7.4 percent. Sales at Volkswagen dropped 8.4 percent.
Analysts expect that April's sales pace was slightly slower than the rate in March but should still translate into full-year sales of more than 16 million cars and trucks.
"It appears we are in a more stable environment, and the sun is shining," said Jesse Toprak, chief analyst for Cars.com. "We are now finally not stuck in first gear anymore."
Toprak expects the April sales pace to hold or improve slightly through the rest of the year. His full-year forecast calls for sales of 16.2 million.
Small SUVs are stealing sales from other parts of the market, especially with baby boomers who are downsizing from larger SUVs but like the maneuverability and high seating position of the smaller ones, Toprak said.
For instance, sales of the Honda CR-V, the No. 1 seller in the segment, rose 7.4 percent to more than 28,000, making it one of the most popular vehicles in the nation.