AUBURN HILLS (WWJ) – New products and a big interest in pickup trucks lead GM, Ford and Chrysler to strong sales gains in April.  Ford sales were up 18 percent, Chrysler and GM sales 11 percent.

“We are working harder than ever to keep pace with record demand for our all-new, fuel-efficient Fusion and Escape – with sales growth particularly strong on the coasts,” said Ken Czubay, Ford vice president, U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service. “F-Series pickups also continue to build on their momentum as the housing and construction industries rebound.”

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Fusion sales were up 24 percent, on the strength of an all new model.  The Escape is also helped by a new model, along with a lot of interest in small SUV’s.  Escape sales were up 52 percent.  The F-series saw a 24 percent sales increase…as a rebounding housing industry is helping pickup truck sales.

The new Lincoln MKZ was finally available in good numbers, pushing Lincoln brand sales up 21 percent.

“It’s no secret that the new MKZ got off to a rough start, but it is finally getting some traction” said analyst Michelle Krebs.  “More importantly, the car is catching on with a younger and more affluent buyer. It’s also doing well in markets in which Lincoln has not been a player — particularly in California, where its market share has gone up 10 percent.”

The same factors lead to a good month at Chrysler.

“Chrysler Group’s best April sales in six years helped to maintain our sales momentum and drove us to our 37th-consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains,” said Reid Bigland, Head of U.S. Sales. “Our sales last month were solid across the board with seven Chrysler Group vehicles recording their best April sales ever.”

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The Dodge Durango was Chrysler’s sales leader, with a 65 percent increase. It comes as the current model is about to be replaced by a new version.

A mix of old and new Grand Cherokee’s helped that model’s sales, and meant a two percent increase for the Jeep Brand. That comes at a time when Liberty production has been halted, and Jeep has not yet begun selling the new Cherokee.

GM sales operations manager Kurt McNeil says their small vehicles saw gains of 31 percent.  But it was also a great month for pickups and crossovers.

“Y’know, with the positive news on housing, we feel that’s helping both the economy and our truck business.”

Import brands reported a mixed bag of results.  Nissan had a 23 percent increase, with Volkswagen falling 10 percent.  Toyota was off one percent.  Honda sales rose 7 percent.

Chrysler says it expects the entire industry to post a 10 percent sales increase from April of 2012.

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WWJ AutoBeat Reporter Jeff Gilbert will be following car sales reports as they are released today. For instant updates, you can follow his Twitter (@jefferygilbert) feed here.