Ford Sales Slip While General Motors Makes Some Gains, But Will Cut Production

Ford Motor Co. (F) posted its seventh consecutive decline in U.S. monthly sales Friday, underscoring pressure on the automaker as it readies an accelerated turnaround plan driven by a collapse in the market for trucks and sport utility vehicles.

While General Motors Corp. (GM) posted gains versus last year, the automaker reported almost flat monthly sales and cut its planned fourth-quarter production by 12 percent.

DaimlerChrysler AG (DMX), which has also been hit by the shift away from gas-guzzling SUVs in the face of higher gasoline prices and a slowing economy, reported a 3-percent drop in sales, its fifth straight decline.

Overall, U.S. sales of cars and light-duty trucks were projected to come in at about 16.2 million units on an annualized and seasonally adjusted basis for the month, weaker than industry and Wall Street expectations, said GM sales analyst Paul Ballew.

U.S. light vehicle sales have held near 17 million units on an annual basis since 2001, but some analysts expect the market to soften in coming months as consumers feel the pinch from higher interest rates and a slowing housing market.

The one standout was Toyota Motor Corp.'s (TM) U.S. sales, which rose 13 percent in August, led by gains for the company's fuel-efficient passenger cars, such as the subcompact Yaris and the Prius hybrid.

"We are grateful to have the fuel-efficient models today's market demands," said Jim Lentz, Toyota Motor Sales' executive vice president. "But it's the strength of our dealer network which is proving increasingly central to our growth."

Honda Motor Co.'s sales were down 7 percent; results at Nissan Motor Co. were down 6 percent.


Ford's U.S. sales dropped almost 12 percent, broadly in line with analysts' expectations.

Despite the decline, Ford's sales tally for August was back above Toyota's total, a month after the Japanese automaker overtook Ford on a monthly basis.

Sales of Ford's trucks, including its market-leading F-150 series, dropped 21 percent from a year earlier as U.S. consumers opted for more fuel-efficient passenger cars.

Ford sales analyst George Pipas said he expected that more consumers would continue to trade in used SUVs for passenger cars on the view that high gas prices showed no sign of abating.

"I think there is some more fallout in that category," Pipas told reporters on a conference call. "Many consumers have either opted out or have decided they are going to opt out of the next 18 or 24 months, which is to say the next time they trade."

Ford has cut third- and fourth-quarter production schedules, citing the weakening demand for its trucks.

The company is readying a stepped-up version of its restructuring plan due to be announced later this month.

Ford has already announced plans to cut 30,000 jobs and close 12 factories through 2012 but has faced criticism for not moving faster to cut costs and realign its product line-up.

GM, which has had the worst sales performance in percentage terms this year of any of the major automakers, posted a slight gain in sales in August in unit terms.

The world's No. 1 automaker sold 363,521 passenger cars and light trucks, up from 349,806 a year earlier before adjusting for the additional selling day last month compared to a year earlier. Total vehicle sales were flat after that seasonal adjustment.

Analysts said GM had an easier comparison to year-earlier results than Ford and Chrysler.

Ballew said GM remained on track to meet its 2006 targets.

"As we turn attention to the rest of the year, we feel very good that despite some curveballs, we're on track to hit our sales targets for the year and to maintain our inventory levels," he said.

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