Ford, GM sales fall; Chrysler posts another gain

/ Source: The Associated Press

The nation’s two largest automakers said they would reduce production in the first quarter of 2005 after reporting weak November sales. Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co., meanwhile, posted record sales for the month.

General Motors Corp. said on Wednesday that its total vehicle sales fell 13.1 percent from November 2003, with a 17.1 percent decline in cars and a 10.3 percent decline in trucks. The company said it intends to produce 1.25 million vehicles in the first quarter, down 7.1 percent from the same quarter last year.

No. 2 Ford Motor Co. said sales of the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands fell 4.3 percent in November from the year before, its ninth monthly decline this year. Car sales fell 12.5 percent, while sales of pickups and SUVs were down 0.9 percent.

Sales at the smallest of Detroit’s Big Three, DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group, rose 8.9 percent — 17.5 percent for cars and 6.8 percent for trucks. It was the eighth consecutive monthly increase, aided by the buzz from its distinctive Chrysler 300 sedan, named Car of the Year by Motor Trend magazine last month.

For Nissan, trucks drove November’s overall increase of 31 percent. Sales of pickups and SUVs were up 58.7 percent, while cars rose 10 percent.

“A lot of our new vehicles have been trucks, and our new vehicles have kind of led the game,” said Jed Connelly, senior vice president for sales and marketing at Nissan’s North American division.

Toyota’s American division, meanwhile, did best with cars. With the Camry holding its place as the country’s best-selling passenger car and sales of the Prius hybrid continuing to climb, Toyota sold 19.2 percent more cars last month than in November 2003. Truck sales fell 1.4 percent, giving Toyota an overall increase of 8.8 percent.

Honda Motor Co. said its sales rose 3.1 percent, boosted by strong results for its Acura models and Honda trucks. Truck sales increased 10.2 percent, while car sales fell 2 percent.

Production cuts
Ford said it would build 930,000 vehicles in the first quarter of 2005, a 7.7 percent reduction. The decline primarily reflects the previously announced elimination of a shift at the St. Louis assembly plant and the closure of the Edison assembly plant in New Jersey, the company said.

Both GM and Ford said fourth-quarter production would remained unchanged at the previously announced plan of 830,000 vehicles for Ford and 1.27 million for GM.

Despite the sales decline, Ford said it was pleased with the results for some of its new offerings. Sales of the new Mustang rose 12 percent compared to a year ago, while combined sales for the new Ford Five Hundred and Freestyle and the Mercury Montego were up 62 percent compared with October.

George Pipas, Ford’s top sales analyst, said that based on the momentum of the new products, he expected higher sales in December. November is traditionally a slow month for auto sales, he noted.

“The overall result was not up to par, largely owing to some disappointing performances in the month for carry-over products, including, but not limited to, the Ford Focus in the small-car segment,” Pipas said in a conference call with investors.

GM spokeswoman Deborah Silverman said November’s soft sales were due largely to the fact that the company is at a lull in its introduction of new products. But the company said it too was pleased with results from products launched earlier in the year.

“Our key launch products, the Chevrolet Aveo, Colorado and Equinox, Cadillac STS, GMC Canyon, Pontiac G6 and Buick LaCrosse continue to gain sales and show market momentum,” John Smith, group vice president, said in a statement.

Chrysler credited the Chrysler 300 sedan with helping it generate a surge in showroom traffic. “The Chrysler 300 has completely sold itself since its introduction,” said Gary Dilts, Chrysler’s senior vice president for sales. “The excitement and desire this car has generated with customers far exceeded our expectations and is spilling over into our other products and spotlighting our entire product lineup.”