Nissan led the way with an 18.3 percent increase over a year ago, with sales of the redesigned Rogue small SUV up almost 27 percent. Chrysler posted a 14 percent gain, boosted by a big jump in sales of Jeep SUVs. Both companies reported record April sales. And Toyota sales grew by 13 percent, led by a double-digit gain in truck sales.
General Motors, which has suffered through bad publicity from a string of embarrassing safety recalls, posted a 7 percent gain, led by the Buick Encore small SUV and the Chevy Silverado pickup truck.
Analysts are expecting an industrywide sales gain of at least 8.5 percent compared with last April. That would mark the best April since 2005. But there were some soft spots.
Ford's sales fell 1 percent. Its car sales sputtered, although sales of its F-Series pickup, the best-selling vehicle in the U.S., rose 7.4 percent. Sales at Volkswagen dropped 8.4 percent.
Analysts expect that April's sales pace was slightly slower than the rate in March, but would still translate into 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."
Erich Merkle, Ford's top sales analyst, blamed his company's decline on a 24 percent drop in sales to rental car companies for the month. He also said crossover SUVs are growing quickly and are pulling sales away from cars.
Buyers are being lured by low interest rates - averaging 2.9 percent for a 60-month loan, according to Bankrate.com - and lease deals. The industry has also rolled out 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 sales momentum.