Updated from 2:49 p.m. EDT

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

and

DaimlerChrysler's

(DCX)

U.S. arm sold more vehicles in April than they did in the same month a year ago, but

Ford's

(F) - Get Report

total sales fell as fleet orders dropped sharply.

Ford, which said sales fell 7.4% for the month, closed up 2.8% Wednesday to $16.34. General Motors said April sales surged 12.7% versus the year-ago month, and the stock gained 2.1% to $65.51. Chrysler, meanwhile, reported a 3% increase from the same month in 2001. Shares of DaimlerChrysler, Chrysler's parent company, rose 2% to $46.55.

Total sales for both GM and Chrysler came in much stronger than expected, while Ford's results were basically in line with projections.

At least one analyst believes Ford should benefit from the overall predicted strength in vehicle sales this year. "Continued discounts in the marketplace, good economics and good demographics are all contributing to sales that are higher than trend and coming off of the recessionary bottom," said Sanford Bernstein analyst Scott Hill.

Hill called GM's numbers "smashing" and said he plans to change his estimates for overall industry sales growth as well as his earnings estimates for the industry participants for the second half of this year.

So far, the decline in auto sales that so many were expecting in 2002 hasn't materialized. Many observers worried that car and truck sales would fall precipitously this year after the incentive programs launched last September by the automakers caused sales to surge.

"Maybe it will moderate in the back half of the year, but for five or six years they've predicted that sales levels aren't sustainable, and it hasn't happened," said Hill.

GM said its car sales rose 1.3% to 191,176 units, while truck sales jumped 24.3% to 230,913. The biggest of the three automakers now expects to produce 1.53 million vehicles in North America in the second quarter, in line with its previous expectation and 12% higher than the same period a year ago.

Chrysler reported U.S. sales of 200,421 vehicles in April, with passenger car sales up 4% to 51,464 units and truck sales 3% higher to 148,957 vehicles. The company said production continues to remain strong, with 14 of the 17 Chrysler assembly plants expected to operate overtime at some point during the second quarter.

At Ford, car and truck sales totaled 307,061 units for the month. Sales to retail customers equaled the year-ago mark, but sales to fleet customers slid 24%. Sales of the high-end Jaguar and Land Rover lines reached record levels last month. The company's total car sales fell 11.9% to 114,137 units, and truck sales dropped 4.5% to 192,924. Ford, the company's largest automotive brand, sold 257,782 vehicles in April, down 8% from a year ago.

Ford, which is in the middle of a major restructuring program and has suffered loss of market share to General Motors in the recent incentives war, hasn't participated in the rally along with its two Detroit-area rivals. GM has gained 63% since late September, and Chrysler has surged 65%. Ford's shares have risen just 6.5%.