Douglas C. Pizac  /  AP file
Ford, along with its Detroit rivals GM and Chrysler, ended holiday incentive offers on Tuesday.
updated 1/3/2006 6:31:46 PM ET 2006-01-03T23:31:46

U.S. automakers ended their holiday discount programs Tuesday as scheduled but hinted that more deals could be on the way.

General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group all kicked off holiday incentive programs in mid-November. While automakers typically offer yearend discounts, this year's deals came several weeks early in an effort to boost flagging sales.

The holiday programs knocked $4,000 or more off the price of some vehicles. GM and Ford posted a fixed maximum price on their vehicles at dealerships, while Chrysler offered free gas for two years as well as two years of free scheduled maintenance.

All of the programs ended Tuesday as scheduled, but Chrysler and Ford said they may announce new deals as early as Wednesday.

The holiday deals didn't appear to pump up sales as much as the Big Three might have hoped. Automakers were to release December sales figures on Wednesday, but industry analysts have already forecast a weak month compared to last year.

Analysts said GM, Ford and Chrysler are still feeling some effect from this summer, when they enjoyed near-record sales thanks to their employee-discount incentives. Those discounts were so popular they were extended several times.

U.S. automakers have vowed to pull away from incentives, which can cheapen brand image and hurt resale values, but the process could be difficult since consumers have grown accustomed to big discounts. Asian brands also offer incentives, but they're typically much smaller.

The average incentive per vehicle was $2,363 in November, 11 percent lower than a year ago, according to Autodata Corp. GM and Ford led the decline in incentive spending, while Chrysler's level of incentive spending was flat for the year.

Ford shares were up 11 cents to close at $7.83 on the New York Stock Exchange, while DaimlerChrysler shares were up $2.72, or 5 percent to close at $53.75. GM shares fell 52 cents, or nearly 3 percent, to close at $18.90 after a Bank of America analyst suggested that GM will save far less that it has announced due to health care concessions from the United Auto Workers union.

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