When John Felice, general manager of Ford and Lincoln sales, talks to his dealers, the key message is to raise expectations for the auto maker’s growth. Ford sales in April rose 18% compared with last year, making it the company’s best April since 2007. Cars were up 21% while utilities and trucks were up 16%.

“It’s seizing the moment that we have right now to grow,” Felice says. “We’re off to a very good start to the year. Our market share for the first four months is 16%,” up about one percentage point. That’s fully attributable to retail-sales growth.

“Our dealers are performing very well. Part of that is a recovering industry and part is the restructuring they made during the difficult times three or four years ago.”

Ford is encouraged by economic indicators that bode well for fullsize pickup sales. The National Association of Home Builders expects total housing starts to hit 970,000 by the end of this year, up 24% from 2012.

“In grass-roots meetings with dealers, we’re anticipating a very robust fullsize-pickup market for the balance of this year and for 2014,” Felice says.

While dealers generally are upbeat, some regions of the country are still feeling the effects of the recession.

Red River Chevrolet in Bossier City, LA, opened its doors in 1926 and today ranks No.285 on the WardsAuto Dealer 500 with 2,548 units sold and $81.6 million in revenue. That is down slightly from the prior year.

“The first part of 2012 was good, but in the second half our market kind of collapsed,” says dealer principal George Fritze, whose great-grandfather started the business. “We were fortunate to go though GM’s bankruptcy in pretty good shape with the oil and gas industry doing as well as it was, but that has slowed way down. Between that and the GM plant closing here, it made a dent in our business.”

Fritze says the first quarter of 2013 was slightly ahead of last year, and he expects a boost from Chevrolet’s new Impala sedan and Silverado pickup, which outsells the Ford F-150 in his market, he says.

Red River Chevrolet was the first dealership in GM’s South Central region to have a GM-certified “World Class” technician (it now has six) and the first Louisiana store to have its finance and insurance staff certified by the Association of Finance and Insurance Professionals.

The dealership’s showroom Hall of Fame features photos of employees who have been with Red River Chevrolet 20 years or longer. Two have more than 40 years of service. One had 59 years.

“Our loyal customers and loyal employees have made the difference for us,” Fritze says.