April sales figures for cars and trucks sent a clear and resounding message to the auto industry: Make smaller more fuel-efficient cars or die. Here are the facts:

  • About one in five vehicles sold in the United States was a compact or subcompact car.
  • Sales of traditional Sport Utility Vehicles are down more than 25 percent this year—and full-size pickup sales have fallen more than 15 percent.
  • For the first time, fuel-efficient four-cylinder engines surpassed six-cylinder models in popularity.
  • The Toyota Prius, a mid-size car, posted the single most dramatic gain in sales—up 53 percent up—compared to one year ago. Among all passenger vehicles, it ranked number eight in April sales.
  • Sales of subcompacts soared. Sales of the Toyota Yaris increased 46 percent. The Ford Focus jumped 32 percent, and the Honda Fit had a record month.

And here’s how auto industry executives and analysts responded:

  • “It’s easily the most dramatic segment shift I have witnessed in the market in my 31 years here,” said George Pipas, chief sales analyst for the Ford Motor Company. (New York Times)
  • “The era of the truck-based large SUVs is over,” said Michael Jackson, chief executive of AutoNation, the nation’s largest auto retailer. (New York Times)
  • “We continue to see that fuel efficiency will remain one of the top priorities for purchasing consumers,” said Bob Carter, general manager of Toyota’s U.S. division. (Associated Press)
  • “This shift appears to be a permanent situation,” said Jesse Toprak, chief industry analyst for the auto information Web site Edmunds.com. (New York Times)
  • “What we did not count on is oil being nearly $120 barrel,” said Mike DiGiovanni, General Motors sales and market analyst. (Chicago Tribune)

The New York Times warned, “Automakers ignore the move to smaller vehicles at their own peril.”