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A sluggish sales month in April for Detroit automakers is turning out to be good news for consumers now in the market for a new car or truck.

After pulling back on incentives last month, Ford, GM and Chrysler have all recently rolled out new discount programs, or extended offers already in place, to move more metal and maintain market share.

The trend underscores the difficulty automakers face trying to wean customers off rebates and low-rate loans, and how necessary the discounts are to remaining competitive.

In April, the average incentive on vehicles from Detroit’s Big Three was $3,961, down from $4,033 in March, but up from $3,310 in April 2003.

The industry average fell to $2,994, from $3,209 in March. But the pullback stalled U.S. auto sales, which grew just 0.8 percent last month.

At the same time, slower-than-expected auto sales so far this year have left some manufacturers with too many cars and trucks, forcing them to show buyers the money to clear dealer lots and make way for 2005 models.

This week, Ford Motor Co., whose April sales fell 4.6 percent compared to last year, began offering a $1,000 rebate and free financing for up to 60 months on Freestar minivans and Explorer, Excursion and Expedition sport utility vehicles.

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