U.S. April Auto Sales may rise by 16 percent image

U.S. auto sales may have reached a 13 million annual pace for the third straight month, accelerating from a year earlier, as consumer confidence rose before vehicles produced prior to Japan’s earthquake began to run out.

April sales, which will be reported Tuesday, are expected to be up 19 percent compared with last year, and dealers say the increase is at least partly due to anxious customers.

The average forecast of 40 economists surveyed by Reuters was 13 million vehicles on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis, which would be a 16 percent rise from last year’s 11.2 million rate and on par with March.

“April looks a lot like March,” Ford Motor Co (F.N) sales analyst George Pipas said on Monday, adding that Ford expects a sales rate for the month in the range of low- to mid-13 million.

On the same time, Japan saw auto sales drop 51% in April compared to sales a year earlier, the biggest plunge since record-keeping began in 1968.

Demand was also hit by the termination last September of a government subsidy to encourage consumers to trade in their old vehicles for more environmentally friendly models.