Auto sales down less than expected

GM off 9.4% in February while the forecast was for a 17% decline

March 02, 2001|By BLOOMBERG NEWS

DETROIT - General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG's auto sales declined less than forecast in February, helped by price breaks and U.S. consumers who continue spending even as the economy's growth slows.

GM sales fell 9.4 percent, compared with the average analyst forecast of a 17 percent decline. DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler sales slid 11 percent, about half the decline expected, while Ford sales fell 11 percent. Sales also slipped at Nissan Motor Corp. and Volkswagen AG as automakers faced tough comparisons with February 2000, the industry's second-best month ever.

"The slowdown in the economy is concentrated in the industrial sector, and consumers aren't feeling it yet and are still spending money," said J. P. Morgan Securities analyst David Bradley.

GM, the world's biggest automaker, said it sold 403,300 North American-built cars and light trucks in February. Car sales fell 8.7 percent while sales of pickups, minivans and sport utility vehicles dropped 10 percent. Total sales including imports and heavy trucks fell 9.4 percent to 409,535.

Ford's sales of North American-built light vehicles fell 11 percent to 290,926, compared with analyst forecasts of a 13 percent decline. Sales of both car and truck models declined 11 percent. Total sales including imports and heavy trucks also dropped 11 percent, to 303,657.

"The year-ago figure was the second best annual rate in history, so to be down 11 percent from that supports their decision not to cut production too much," said Burnham Securities analyst David Healy.

Ford-brand sales fell about 10 percent, hurt by slower sales of the F-Series trucks, while Mercury dropped 22 percent. Lincoln sales rose 1.6 percent.

Stuttgart, Germany-based DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler unit sold 201,636 cars and light trucks, down 11 percent from the year-earlier month but ahead of the average forecast of a 20 percent decline. Car sales fell 13 percent while trucks declined 10 percent.

Chrysler early last month added cash-back incentives on several vehicles, including $2,000 on the Dodge sport utilities and pickups, to stem a decline it had blamed in part on consumers' concern about its financial health.

Chrysler lost about $1.7 billion in the last half of 2000 and in January said it would cut 26,000 jobs and close plants to improve its results.

Sales of Chrysler brand vehicles rose 37 percent, boosted by sales of the PT Cruiser, which was not available last February. Jeep brand sales fell 16 percent, while Dodge division sales dropped 17 percent.

Toyota Motor, the No. 4 automaker in the U.S., said sales rose 1 percent to 123,959. Sales of Toyota light trucks rose 19 percent as the company introduced new models including the Sequoia and Highlander sport utility vehicles.

Honda Motor Co., the fifth-largest automaker in the United States, said February sales rose 9.4 percent to 91,043 led by a 23 percent jump in Accord sales and a 41 percent increase in sales by the Acura luxury division.

Nissan Motor, Japan's No. 2 automaker, said its U.S. sales fell 6.1 percent to 53,893. Volkswagen, Europe's largest automaker, said U.S. sales fell 10 percent to 24,265, while Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, Germany's No. 3 carmaker, said North American sales rose 19 percent to 15,756 vehicles.

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