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Toyota makes big comeback in April

Other carmakers have mixed sales results for month

Gary Cameron/Reuters

Ethan Toloza, 4, inspected tail lights of a new Chevrolet Corvette at Criswell Chevrolet in Gaithersburg, Md., Tuesday. General Motors’ April sales were reported down 8.2 percent on Tuesday but the company still raised its forecast for industrywide sales.

DETROIT - Toyota made a big comeback last month after two years of struggles in the United States, helping the auto industry post its best April results in four years, new figures showed on Tuesday.

Toyota’s sales in the US market increased 12 percent in April, and its market share climbed to 15 percent, the highest point in 17 months.

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Overall industry sales rose 2 percent.

Toyota more than doubled sales of its Prius hybrid from a year ago, when prices surged and availability plunged after the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan. It came within about 1,600 units of outselling the Ford Motor Co., whose sales fell 5 percent.

General Motors had a down month as well, with sales falling 8 percent and its market share dipping to 18 percent from 20.1 percent in April 2011.

Having spent the last two years stealing customers from Toyota - first as the Japanese automaker dealt with huge recalls and then after last year’s disasters knocked out much of its production - Detroit will clearly have its hands full again this year, analysts said.

“Toyota’s recovery is ‘mission accomplished,’ much earlier than we thought,’’ said Jesse Toprak, vice president for industry trends and insight at the automotive research website TrueCar.com. “Their buyers are evidently more loyal than we thought.’’

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Sales increased 20 percent for Chrysler, a slowdown from its recent pace of growth.

Volkswagen reported a 27 percent increase. Hyundai, Subaru, and Mercedes-Benz each set company records for April.

GM and Ford attributed their declines to fewer selling days this April and reductions in deliveries to car rental companies. But they are also suddenly up against tougher competition from Toyota, which has recently introduced two additional versions of the Prius and a redesigned Camry - the country’s top-selling midsize sedan.

Robert S. Carter, a Toyota group vice president, said those two nameplates were increasingly drawing in buyers new to the brand. But, Carter said, Toyota is still ramping up production of the Camry and Prius, causing dealers to lose out on some sales.

“Frankly, if we had more Priuses and more Camrys, there’s a bit more volume out there for us,’’ Carter said in a conference call with reporters. “We’re having the largest year that we’ve ever had in our history with new product launches.’’

Toyota’s performance has surprised many analysts in that it has regained its lost market share without offering big discounts, as carmakers traditionally have done when recovering from a tough period. In fact, Toyota spent less on incentives last month than it did a year ago.

Despite its sales decline, GM said it was raising its forecast for total industry sales in 2012 by 500,000 vehicles, to a range of 14 million to 14.5 million. Auto sales last surpassed 14 million in 2007.

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