Friday, November 17, 2006

Trucks lift GM, Ford

Thursday, November 02, 2006
October auto sales
Trucks lift GM, Ford
Figures up from last year's dismal results; Chrysler slips
Josee Valcourt and Christine Tierney / The Detroit News

Helped by new models and falling gas prices that sparked truck sales, General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. sprang back last month from dismal year-earlier sales, but Chrysler posted a small retreat.

GM bolstered claims that its recovery is on track, reporting a 16.8 percent sales gain even though it was the only major automaker to scale back on incentives last month.

Ford sales jumped 8.8 percent from weak levels last October, when Detroit automakers were reeling from the aftereffects of summer employee discount offers.

Sales for DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group fell 3.2 percent, according to figures from Autodata Corp., which were not adjusted to reflect one less selling day compared to October last year.

But overall, Detroit automakers pushed back aggressive Asian rivals, increasing their U.S. market share by 1.4 percentage points to 53.8 percent. For the year to date, however, their share is down more than three points, at 54.1 percent.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, October's annualized selling rate strengthened to 16.16 million vehicles from an anemic 14.84 million a year earlier.

"Last October was not the strongest month for the industry," Ford sales analyst George Pipas said Wednesday. "Sales were down double-digit for the industry. Sales were down double-digit for Ford."

New vehicles such as the Saturn Aura and Ford Fusion sedans contributed strongly to last month's gains.

In addition, a slide in gas prices revived light truck demand. "That's one reason our trucks, SUVs and crossovers are gaining share," said Mark LaNeve, vice president for sales and marketing of GM North America.

GM truck sales surged 32.8 percent, Ford was up 21.1 percent in trucks and Chrysler truck sales rose 9.3 percent, even though it has an older large vehicle lineup.

But with heavyweight Toyota Motor Corp. showing no sign of letting up, analysts say U.S. automakers remain under pressure.

"GM did have a great month, there's no denying it, but they're still down 9 percent for the year to date," said Rebecca Lindland, analyst at forecasting firm Global Insight.

GM's sales analyst Paul Ballew said last month's rebound partly reflected extremely weak truck sales in October 2005."We have at least taken the real intense pressure off on those categories that we saw when the gas price was around $3 a gallon," he said.

Sales of the Chevy Tahoe large SUV nearly doubled last month. "They did quite well with the new redesigned Tahoe," said Jesse Toprak, an analyst for, a Web site for car buyers.

Across the industry, trucks scored well, he said. "Our explanation for that was partially lower gas prices but also an increase in incentive spending, specifically for larger vehicles."

Discounts on large SUVs averaged $4,800 industry-wide, compared with $685 for compact cars.

Ford and Chrysler offered the biggest discounts, averaging close to $4,000 per vehicle in October, according to Autodata.

The leading Japanese manufacturers increased incentives by an average of $154 per vehicle. Overall, however, their discounts averaged $1,401 per vehicle in October, compared with $3,436 for the U.S. automakers.

GM was the only major automaker to cut discounts last month, by $226 to an average of $2,836 per vehicle.

Financial analysts watch sales trends but also track incentive spending and factors such as fleet sales to gauge profitability.

GM and Ford are both downsizing their domestic operations, and Chrysler is expected to announce restructuring measures early next year after losing $1.5 billion in the third quarter.

Ballew said GM is focusing less now on its U.S. market share, expected to be under 25 percent for the year, as it targets improving profits in North America.

"We don't get too obsessed with market share these days," he said. "This year we've bitten the bullet in terms of not chasing marginally profitable business." GM's fleet sales were down last month from year-earlier levels.

Steven Landry, Chrysler's vice president of sales, said lower fleet sales also contributed to Chrysler's weak performance in October, relative to its Detroit rivals.

He said Chrysler also had reduced inventories from September as well as from year-earlier levels to 508,724 vehicles -- or an 80 days' supply.

Pipas said Ford's fleet sales are expected to drop significantly next year with the discontinuation of the Taurus sedan, which ended production last month.

Asian brand sales rose in October but less than the domestics, in part because foreign-based automakers refrained from rolling out big summer discounts in 2005 and didn't suffer a resulting sales slowdown in the fall.

Toyota Motor Corp. had its best October ever with a 9.2 percent rise in sales, helped by strong demand for its RAV4 SUV.

Nissan Motor Co. reported a 3.9 percent gain in October, breaking a months -long decline due to a dearth of new products.

Honda Motor Co. sales were flat, with car sales down but truck sales bolstered by higher sales of its CR-V SUV.

Detroit News Staff Writer Sharon Terlep contributed to this report. You can reach Josee Valcourt at (313) 222-2300 or

© Copyright 2006 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


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