DETROIT – General Motors Corp. (GM) said Thursday its January U.S. auto sales dropped 16.6 percent and Ford Motor Co. (F) saw its sales drop 19 percent, with both citing lower sales to rental-car companies.
But Toyota Motor Corp.'s sales rose 9.5 percent to again surpass Ford's monthly sales, while DaimlerChrysler AG's sales rose 3.2 percent compared with January 2006, also topping Ford's sales for the month. American Honda Motor Co.'s sales rose 2.5 percent.
This year, Toyota is expected to take Ford's No. 2 spot in U.S. sales after its sales surpassed Ford's in two months last year. The Japanese automaker sold 175,850 vehicles last month, including 100,256 cars and 75,594 trucks.
On Wednesday, Ford warned that it expected to post a 20 percent drop compared with January 2006. And GM had said last week that it expected its January sales to be down, also because of lower rental fleet sales.
"We are aggressively reducing our daily rental fleet sales as a continuing element of our strategy to offer industry-leading value and improve residuals," Mark LaNeve, GM's vice president for sales, service and marketing, said in a statement.
GM's car sales dropped 22.5 percent for the month to 104,156, while light truck sales were down 11.5 percent to 140,458. In all, it sold 244,614 light vehicles for the month, remaining No. 1 in sales.
GM also lowered its first-quarter North American production forecast from guidance given last month by 40,000 vehicles, or 3.6 percent, to 1.1 million vehicles. GM said it was part of the effort to reduce rental fleet sales. In the first quarter of 2006, GM produced 1.3 million vehicles in the region.
Toyota's car sales were up 13.1 percent in January, while truck sales rose 5 percent. Toyota said sales, which include the Toyota and Lexus brands, were the best ever for January. Sales of its Camry mid-sized car rose 14.7 percent to 31,461, while its hybrid Prius and RAV4 compact sport utility vehicle also made gains.
Ford sold 165,877 light vehicles in January. It sold 55,842 cars, down 32.5 percent from a year ago, and 110,035 light trucks, down 9.8 percent. It said sales to daily rental companies dropped 65 percent. Ford said it remains focused on its North American turnaround and returning to profitability.
"Where we are in sales races and sales rankings ... is a distraction that we're not going to be bothered with," George Pipas, Ford's top sales analyst, said during a conference call with industry analysts and reporters. "We've got a job to do in North America, and that is all we're focused on."
While the decline in fleet sales hurts overall sales numbers, GM and Ford have said the focus instead on sales to more-profitable retail customers is part of their North American turnaround efforts.
Ford's sales to retail customers were down 5 percent for the month.
In the first full month of sales for its new crossovers, Ford reported it sold 5,586 Ford Edges and 1,699 Lincoln MKXs. But sales of Ford's F-series pickup truck were down about 15 percent from a year ago.
Ford said it expects weakness in new home construction to hurt full-size pickup sales through the first half of the year. Its sales include Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands, as well as Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo. Jaguar sales fell 13 percent, Land Rover sales fell 11.7 percent and Volvo sales fell 7 percent.
Ford's fleet sales were expected to be lower because it no longer is selling the Taurus — once the nation's top-selling car. But Pipas said fleet reductions also came in many current products.
DaimlerChrysler sold 173,377 vehicles in January. Chrysler Group's sales, which include the Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brands, were up less than 1 percent to 156,308, while Mercedes-Benz sales rose 36.9 percent to 17,069 in January compared with the same month of 2006.
The gains came as Chrysler saw its best January in six years and Mercedes reported its best January sales ever, DaimlerChrysler said. Chrysler said its January sales were driven by solid retail sales, while fleet sales were down, but a statement on the results didn't provide specific fleet numbers.
"With a fresh product lineup in dealer showrooms and eight new vehicle launches to come in 2007, Chrysler Group is well positioned to remain competitive in the marketplace," Michael Manley, vice president for sales and dealer operations, said in the statement. "We will focus on providing innovation, quality and value to our customers — and we will also provide our dealers with competitive tools to sell these vehicles."
The modes Chrysler Group is introducing this year include the mid-size Avenger sedan and Chrysler Sebring convertible. In January, sales of its Jeep brand rose 19 percent, while Dodge Ram pickup sales rose 12 percent.
Sales by American Honda Motor, which include Honda and Acura brands, rose to 100,790, a record for January. The company sold 53,412 cars, down 7 percent, but truck sales rose 15.7 percent to 47,378.
"The crossover segment continues to grow and key products like the Honda CR-V are increasingly important," Dick Colliver, executive vice president of American Honda, said in a statement.
GM's shares rose 6 cents, or 0.2 percent, to $32.90 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange, while Ford's shares rose 7 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $8.20. DaimlerChrysler's U.S. shares rose 46 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $62.95.
The Associated Press reports unadjusted figures, calculating the percentage change in the total number of vehicles sold in one month compared with the same month a year earlier. Some automakers report percentages adjusted for sales days, which last month was 25 and in January 2006 was 24.