0% of something yields 2nd-best auto year

Cheap financing helps U.S. auto industry sell 17 million vehicles in '01

January 04, 2002|By BLOOMBERG NEWS

DETROIT - General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler division said yesterday that U.S. vehicle sales rose last month as zero percent loans helped the industry record its second-best sales year.

Sales increased 7.2 percent over December 2000 at General Motors and 2 percent at Ford, including imports and big trucks. Chrysler gained 6.2 percent, beating analyst forecasts. Honda Motor Co.'s U.S. sales rose 7.8 percent, while one analyst predicted a 2.9 percent increase for Toyota Motor Corp.

Light-vehicle sales rose as much as 4 percent last month, pushing the year's total to about 17.1 million vehicles, General Motors economist Paul Ballew said. That would make 2001 the second-best sales year, trailing only 2000, even as the U.S. economy was in recession.

Overall U.S. sales for some automakers were down last year after the record 17.4 million vehicles sold in 2000.

Last year "ended the way it started - lots of floor traffic and a lot of confidence in those people able to afford a car," said Arthur M. Spinella, president of CNW Marketing/Research in Bandon, Ore., who surveys consumers about car-buying habits.

Analysts and automakers expected that truck sales would exceed car sales for the first time. General Motors took over from Ford as the largest seller of trucks. The largest automaker sold 2.63 million pickups, sport-utilities, minivans and other trucks, while Ford sold 2.48 million.

Ford's shares rose 51 cents to $16.73 and General Motors gained 71 cents to $49.35. DaimlerChrysler's U.S. shares rose 92 cents to $44.40.

General Motors, which sold 362,169 vehicles in December, yesterday introduced a cash offer on most models after ending its zero-percent financing program yesterday. Ford's no-interest loans end Jan. 14.

The cost of the cash offer is about the same as zero-percent financing, said Ballew of General Motors.

"We look at this program as a way to continue our efforts to simplify our incentive structure," he said.

December sales of General Motors cars fell 19 percent while trucks rose 31 percent.

For the year, the Detroit automaker's total sales declined 1 percent to 4.9 million.

Ford sold 281,158 vehicles last month. For the year, the company said its total sales declined 5.5 percent to 3.97 million vehicles.

December sales of North American-built cars and light trucks rose less than 1 percent to 260,067, compared with an average analyst forecast for a 2 percent decline. Sales fell 20 percent for cars and rose 15 percent for trucks.

Chrysler, sold 178,001 vehicles in December. For the year, Chrysler sales fell 9.9 percent to 2.27 million.

For the year, PT Cruiser sales rose 57 percent, while sales of the Ram fell 10 percent and Grand Cherokee declined 18 percent.

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