updated 3/2/2004 6:08:45 PM ET 2004-03-02T23:08:45

General Motors Corp. and Daimler Chrysler AG’s Chrysler Group on Tuesday reported modest increases in sales of new vehicles in February, compared to a bleak month last year in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

Ford Motor Co., however, saw sales fall 3.2 percent.

GM, the world’s biggest automaker, said it sold 6 percent more vehicles, including a 9.4 percent increase in car sales and a 3.4 percent rise in truck sales. Chrysler said sales were up 1.2 percent.

Paul Ballew, GM’s executive director for market and industry analysis, said the results were in line with the company’s expectations. Some analysts had forecast an increase of 10 percent for GM.

Year-to-date, GM’s sales were up 2.1 percent.

“GM’s February sales improved nicely compared to last month and the prior year, giving us momentum as we move into the spring selling season,” said John Smith, GM’s vice president for North American sales, service and marketing.

Ford, meanwhile, saw car sales fall 15.2 percent from February 2003. Truck sales for the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands were up 3.3 percent, buoyed by the continued success of F-series pickups.

The nation’s second-biggest automaker attributed the February sales decrease to declining sales to fleet customers, which it said reflects its decision to move away from the daily rental market.

“We’re committed to pursuing a product and marketing strategy that will result in stronger retail sales performance,” Jim O’Connor, Ford’s vice president for North American marketing, sales and service, said in a statement. “Our decision to pull back sales from the daily rental channel adversely affects year-to-year comparisons, but we believe it is the right long-term decision.”

For the year to date, Ford’s sales fell 6.5 percent.

Ford said it was cutting second-quarter production at its North American assembly plants by 5 percent from last year, slashing car production by 21 percent and increasing truck production by 2 percent.

First-quarter production will be 1.5 percent less than previously announced, Ford said.

Ford said the decrease in car production is a result of changeovers at its Chicago and Dearborn, Mich., plants as it prepares to launch four new vehicles in what it has dubbed “the year of the car.”

Chrysler reported an 18.2 percent drop in car sales and a 7.8 percent increase in truck sales. Overall sales were up 4.5 percent for the first two months of the year.

“The severe winter weather dampened sales in early February,” Gary Dilts, Chrysler’s senior vice president for sales, said in a statement. “But consumer confidence, an improving stock market, lower unemployment claims and a willingness to buy produced one of the strongest February closes we’ve seen.”

Both Ford sales analyst George Pipas and GM’s Ballew said their forecasts for total industry sales in 2004 were unchanged at about 17 million units.

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