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US auto sales expected to rise in April

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DETROIT (AP) — U.S. consumers continued buying cars at a fast clip in April as the last snow melted from dealers' lots.

After spending the harsh winter at home, car buyers were out in force in March, pushing sales to their fastest pace in five months. Analysts expect that trend to continue in April.

Sales of new cars and trucks are expected to increase 8.5 percent to nearly 1.4 million in April, which would make it the best April for the industry since 2005, according to J.D. Power and Associates. Some analysts forecast even higher sales gains.

Automakers are scheduled to report April sales later Thursday.

Analysts expect that April's sales pace was slightly slower than the rate in March, but still on track for full-year sales of more than 16 million cars and trucks. That would be a relief for the industry after a disappointing first-quarter sales rate of 15.7 million vehicles.

U.S. consumers bought 15.6 million new cars and trucks in 2013, and the industry hopes to climb above 16 million this year.

"April's numbers suggest that car shoppers are still motivated to buy new cars, erasing any doubts raised by lackluster sales at the beginning of the year," said Jessica Caldwell, a senior analyst with the car shopping site Edmunds.com. "The sales performance the last two months is more in line with what we projected for 2014, and there's every reason to believe that car shoppers will continue to keep this pace."

Even General Motors' April sales are expected to have risen, despite two months of headlines about a deadly ignition switch defect in older-model cars and GM's delay in fixing it. Car buying site TrueCar.com estimated GM's sales would be up 6.5 percent over last April. One reason: TrueCar estimates GM spent 5 percent more on incentives in April than it did in March, for a total of $3,562 per vehicle. That was the highest level in the industry.

Buyers are being lured by low interest rates — averaging 2.9 percent for a 60-month loan, according to Bankrate.com — and lease deals. Also appealing are attractive new vehicles like the updated Honda Fit and Cadillac Escalade, which both arrived in showrooms last month, and the Jeep Cherokee, a small SUV that went on sale a few months ago but is gaining momentum.

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