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DETROIT -- GM North America President Gary Cowger says U.S. new-vehicle sales are strengthening as the industry heads into its spring selling season, bolstered by 4.2 percent first-quarter growth in gross domestic product.

"It's a tough market out there, but April is looking like it's going to come in around 17 (million units)" Cowger said last week.

"I think the market will be up a little in April, and we should be up a little accordingly."

He says GM is sticking with its forecast of about 17.3 million total U.S. vehicle sales this year, equal to about 17 million light-vehicle sales.

Downward pressure on prices appears to be easing somewhat, he says, but summer model clearance probably will see stepped-up incentives from all automakers.

Cowger's assessment is in line with Wall Street analysts, who expected April to be the year's strongest month.

Analysts expected U.S. light-vehicle sales to climb to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of about 17 million in April, up from 16.4 million in the year-ago month and 16.6 million in March.

Consumers flush with cash from higher tax refunds and lower home mortgage rates are boosting sales, analysts said.

Automakers will report April sales today, May 3.

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