Chrysler April sales rise 20 percent; best April in four years

DETROIT, Tue May 1, 2012 – Chrysler Group LLC’s U.S. new-vehicle sales rose 20 percent last month, marking the best April performance in four years, as the industry headed for another strong performance.

Chrysler, controlled by Fiat SpA of Italy, said Tuesday that sales hit 141,165 vehicles, compared with 117,225 in the same month last year.

The U.S. automaker said it expects the April annual selling rate for the industry to finish at 14.6 million vehicles. That would be stronger than the 14.4 million 41 analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had forecast and would also top the March rate of 14.4 million.

Auto sales are watched as one of the earliest snapshots of American consumer demand. In recent months, the sales figures have proven a bright spot in an economy that expanded at a 2.2 percent annual rate in the first quarter.

But there are mounting signs that the broader U.S. economy is losing steam. Analysts debate whether high fuel prices and warm weather boosted sales in the first quarter, potentially leading to a pullback in sales later in the year.