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Car Buyers Flee SUVs, Prius Sales Triple

Gas prices up, SUV sales down

U.S. consumer interest in SUVs dropped sharply in April as people turned to more fuel-efficient vehicles. Truck-based SUVs have become a traditional profit center for U.S. automakers while fuel savers have long been a strength of Japanese automakers, such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co.

Large gains at Toyota, Nissan North America and American Honda fueled an increase in April sales, while General Motors and Ford Motor Co. posted declines.

Toyota, Nissan and Honda said sales in April were their best ever for the month and in Toyota's case, the best month ever in its history in the United States.

Sales of Toyota's Prius, the most popular gas-electric hybrid car on the market, nearly tripled compared with April of last year, to 11,345.

General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. sales were down slightly, while DaimlerChrysler AG showed a nearly 9-percent gain. Leading Japanese and Korean automakers, however, posted big double-digit increases.

Industrywide, passenger car sales were up 11 percent in April, while light truck sales rose only 1.3 percent. SUVs, particularly large ones like the Ford Expedition and GMC Yukon, seemed to be hardest hit. With a 28-gallon tank, it can cost $60 or more to fill up an Expedition.

Toyota and Nissan also won customers by offering significantly larger discounts last month. Rebates, low-interest loans and other come-ons rose by 76 percent at Nissan to $1,800 and by 107 percent at Toyota to $1,100.

Both continue to trail the traditional Detroit brands, which average $3,400 in incentives.

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