BOLDEN
Paul Sancya  /  AP
Ernest Bolden, a sales consultant at Meade Dodge in Detroit, clears snow off a Dodge Durango on the sales lot March 1. DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group said sales rose 7.5 percent last month.
updated 3/1/2005 6:32:16 PM ET 2005-03-01T23:32:16

In a familiar pattern for the nation’s two largest automakers, General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. posted sales declines last month, while Japanese rivals and the smallest of Detroit’s Big Three made impressive gains.

Moreover, GM and Ford said Tuesday that sales of big trucks and SUVs — vehicles that provide the highest profits — were well off last month, apparently the victim of consumer worries about high fuel prices.

And both companies said they’ll produce fewer vehicles in the remainder of the first quarter and in the second quarter versus a year ago — cutbacks that are sure to hurt revenue and profits.

GM, the world’s largest automaker, posted a 12.7 percent decline after a slight 1 percent increase in January. Ford, the No. 2 U.S. automaker, said sales of its domestic cars and trucks fell 3 percent in February — its ninth straight month of lower sales versus a year ago.

But DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group said sales rose 7.5 percent on another month of sizzling car business, which was up 21 percent from a year ago. Truck sales rose 4 percent.

“Sales for February show we’re sustaining our momentum and leading us toward a sixth consecutive successful quarter of sales,” said Gary Dilts, Chrysler’s group vice president for sales.

Asian sales up
Once again, the best reports came from Asian companies. Toyota Motor Corp., Japan’s top automaker, said its U.S. arm’s sales rose 11 percent from a year ago, while Nissan Motor Co. logged a 10 percent increase — its best February on record despite a 2 percent decline in car sales.

“As gas prices continue their upward march, fuel efficiency catches the public eye,” said Jim Press, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. “Our investment in a broad lineup of fuel-efficient vehicles continues to drive showroom traffic.”

Even smaller Suzuki Motor Corp., which is looking to become a bigger player in the Asian assault on the U.S. automotive market, grabbed a bit more business with a 17.6 improvement in sales from a year ago. Suzuki launched an ambitious plan in 2003 to triple U.S. sales by 2007.

Honda Motor Co., hurt in part by an aging version of its high-volume Civic car, said sales dropped 7 percent from a year ago. Car sales declined 16.5 percent, and truck sales climbed 7.5 percent. Honda is in the midst of redesigning its entire Civic lineup for 2006.

Truck sales down
GM said its truck sales fell 9 percent while car business tumbled 17 percent. The automaker said some new products, such as the Pontiac G6 and Chevrolet Cobalt, had solid performances, but overall it acknowledged a pretty rotten start to 2005.

“The calendar year is starting off slower than expected, both for GM and the industry,” said Mark LaNeve, GM’s vice president for North American sales, service and marketing.

Ford said truck sales — which include pickups, SUVs and minivans — fell 8 percent last month, while demand for cars rose 9 percent.

The uptick in Ford’s car business was pegged to two new sedans, the Ford Five-Hundred and Mercury Montego, and the continuation of heavy demand for the redesigned Mustang launched last year.

“We’re extremely pleased with the sales curve for our new products,” said Earl Hesterberg, Ford’s group vice president for North American marketing, sales and service.

But bigger vehicles, such as the Ford Explorer and Expedition SUVs, saw double-digit sales declines from a year ago. Even sales of Ford’s top-selling F-Series lineup, which account for about one-fourth of Ford’s total sales, were down 11 percent last month.

Ford Division President Steve Lyons said Monday the drop-off in demand for larger vehicles such as the Explorer and Expedition is partly attributable to consumer concerns over fuel prices.

GM and Ford both lowered their first-quarter production plans and announced second-quarter schedules below last year’s levels. GM said it plans to produce 1.25 million vehicles in North America in the April-June period, down from 1.39 million a year ago. Ford said it plans to build 940,000 vehicles in North America in the second quarter, 11,000 fewer than a year ago.

Analysts had forecast disappointing sales — and production cuts — for GM and Ford because of sluggish starts to the year. Both companies cited harsh winter weather in much of the country and exceptionally strong December sales as the reasons for disappointing January tallies.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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