April sales of U.S. light vehicles are running 9.4 percent above sales for the same month last year, according to J.D. Power and Associates.

New light-vehicle sales in April are projected to reach a 17.5 million seasonally adjusted annualised rate (SAAR), based on Power Information Network (PIN) retail sales data from the first two weeks of the month. Light-vehicle sales in April 2001 came in at a 16.6 million SAAR.

With steady volume during the first two weeks of the month, April sales are expected to reach 1.45 million units compared with 1.35 million units in April of 2001.

"This is the first month this year to show year-over-year growth, which is a very positive sign of the strength of the automotive market," said the executive director of global forecasting at J.D. Power and Associates Dr. Walter McManus.

"Everyone is expecting to see some payback for strong sales in the fourth quarter of 2001 and the first quarter of this year, but it just isn't happening."

With stronger-than-expected sales in April, J.D. Power and Associates is raising its 2002 calendar-year forecast from 16.4 million units to 16.5 million units.

"The first quarter came in at a 16.5 million SAAR, and we anticipate the next three quarters will be just as strong," McManus said.

At the segment level, sales of luxury cars, SUVs and compact cars continue to grow in April.

"The luxury car sales boom is primarily in the European and Japanese makes, and that's attributed to the strong dollar," McManus said. "The Korean automakers are driving sales growth in the compact segment. Strong SUV sales are the continuation of a long-running trend."

The pickup, full-size car, midsize car and van segments are also experiencing year-over-year sales growth. The sporty car segment is the only segment to show a year-over-year decline.