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Chrysler Group's sales jump 20% in April Leads 5 largest automakers in exceeding analysts' estimates

Chrysler Group LLC led the five largest automakers in U.S. sales by exceeding analysts' estimates for April as the industry's increased production drove expansion in the manufacturing sector.

Chrysler sales climbed 20 percent to 141,165 light vehicles, and Toyota Motor Corp.'s deliveries rose 12 percent to 178,044, according to company statements. General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. said sales declined by less than analysts estimated.

"We've got ourselves steady, sustainable growth in the market," said Alan Baum, principal of auto-industry forecaster Baum & Associates in West Bloomfield, Mich.

Ford deliveries fell 5.1 percent to 179,658 cars and light trucks, and GM sales dropped 8.2 percent to 213,387. The automakers beat analysts' estimates calling for a 5.7 percent decline for Ford and 9 percent decrease for GM.

Some analysts adjust for "selling days," which exclude Sundays and holidays, to compare year-over-year results. April 2012 has three fewer selling days than the year-earlier month did. Ford's sales rose 6.8 percent and GM's gained 3.2 percent on a selling-day adjusted basis.

Chrysler, which builds more than half of its vehicles in the U.S., boosted worldwide shipments by 25 percent in the first quarter, the automaker said last week. The company is accelerating the addition of 1,100 jobs and a third crew of workers at a Detroit plant by adding them in November, pulling ahead plans for increasing production in early 2013, Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne said.

Deliveries of Chrysler's 300 sedan more than doubled in April to 7,763, the company said in a statement. Marchionne is counting on the new Dodge Dart compact, which begins production this week, to sustain Chrysler's momentum later this year after 11 straight months of sales gains topping 20 percent.

"We continue to underestimate the power of Sergio," Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with IHS Automotive, said in a telephone interview. "They have the product to keep going," she said, citing the upcoming Dart and increased production of Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango sport utility vehicles.

Total light-vehicle sales in April may have risen 0.9 percent to 1.16 million, the average of nine analysts' estimates. Industrywide U.S. auto sales have climbed every month since June 2011, according to researcher Autodata Corp.

GM, the world's top seller of cars and light trucks, raised its forecast for full-year U.S light-vehicle sales to 14 million to 14.5 million, up from as much as 14 million. The company cited better-than-expected industry results in the first quarter and its expectation for sustained economic growth.

GM, the top-selling automaker in the U.S., is introducing new models such as the Chevrolet Spark small car later this year to boost U.S. market share that fell by 1.9 percentage points in the first quarter.

Ford, the No. 2 U.S. seller, said deliveries of its Fiesta subcompact plunged 44 percent to 5,135. The company sold 37 percent of its vehicles to fleet customers last month, Erich Merkle, the automaker's sales analyst, said on a conference call.

Ford has said it can't keep up with demand and sees its U.S. market share dropping this year as a result. Factory production will increase by 400,000 vehicles on an annualized basis for the remainder of the year, which should slow its share loss, Ken Czubay, the automaker's U.S. sales chief, said.

GM rose 1.3 percent to $23.30 at the close in New York while Ford slid 0.4 percent to $11.23.

Affiliates Hyundai and Kia Motors Corp., both based in Seoul, combined to sell 0.9 percent more vehicles than a year earlier, topping six analysts' average estimate for a 0.4 percent drop. Hyundai will add a third shift at its main assembly plant in Montgomery, Ala., to meet U.S. demand for its Sonata sedans and Elantra compacts, the company said.

Deliveries of the Kia Optima sedan surged 69 percent to 11,021, according to a statement. Sales of Hyundai's Accent increased 40 percent to 6,160.

Honda deliveries slid 2.2 percent, better than the 6.7 percent average estimate of eight analysts, for a second consecutive monthly drop. The Tokyo-based carmaker regained its spot as the fifth-largest automaker by U.S. sales from Nissan after deliveries of its best-selling Accord rose 26 percent to 35,385, according to a statement.

Nissan Motor Co. deliveries slipped 0.3 percent. Sales of the automaker's top-selling Altima sedan, which will be refreshed and arrive at dealerships in July, slipped 5.8 percent to 16,239, the company said in a statement. Volkswagen AG, which is on pace to exceed its target for more than 500,000 U.S. sales this year, increased combined sales of its Volkswagen and Audi brand vehicles by 27 percent in April, exceeding four analysts' average estimate for a 9.2 percent gain.