General Motors Posts Sales Gain While Ford, Chrysler Fade

General Motors (GM) reported a 3.7 percent increase in its U.S. sales in February, but two other domestic automakers posted declines — Ford's sales sank 13.5 percent while DaimlerChrysler (DCX) posted a 7.7 percent drop.

GM, the world's biggest automaker, said consumer demand was strong for its pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.

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Its fleet sales dropped 18 percent last month as a result of a planned 25 percent reduction in daily rental sales, but the decrease was offset by an 11 percent increase in retail sales.

Ford (F) blamed its sales performance on a 30 percent reduction in fleet sales, while German-American DaimlerChrysler (DCX) cited lower demand for vehicles from its U.S.-based Chrysler Group.

Ford's showing put it in danger of being surpassed by Japanese rival Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) for the month.

Meanwhile, Honda said its U.S. sales rose 3.2 percent on stronger sales of its trucks and Nissan said its sales rose 1.2 percent.

General Motors Corp. said it sold 308,411 light vehicles in February, up from 297,481 in the year-ago period.

Sales of light trucks rose 7.9 percent to 199,509, while sales of passenger vehicles fell 3.3 percent to 108,902.

The increase in light truck sales was led by a 26.5 percent jump in demand for the Silverado pickup and a 22.7 percent increase in sales of the GMC Sierra.

While the decline in fleet sales hurts overall sales numbers, Ford and GM have said the shift in their sales focus to more-profitable retail customers are part of their North American turnaround efforts.

Ford Motor Co. sold 210,194 light vehicles in February, down from 242,912 in the same month of 2006. Car sales fell 22 percent to 70,951, while sales of light trucks decreased 10 percent to 122,644.

The Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker said overall sales to retail customers fell 8 percent compared with a year ago. Sales to rental car companies decreased by 16,000 vehicles, the company said.

Many analysts expect Toyota to take Ford's No. 2 spot in U.S. sales this year, after its sales surpassed Ford's in two months in 2006.

DaimlerChrysler AG sold 191,810 vehicles last month, down from 207,723 for the same month in 2006.

Chrysler Group's sales, which include the Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brands, were down 8.3 percent to 174,506, while Mercedes-Benz sales fell less than a percent to 17,304 in February versus a year ago.

American Honda Motor Co., which includes the Honda and Acura brands, said it sold a total of 110,026 vehicles in February, up from 106,644 in the 2006 month.

Truck sales rose 7 percent to 49,521, while car sales edged up less than a percent to 60,505.

Nissan North America, which includes the Nissan and Infiniti brands, sold 85,218 vehicles, up from 84,241 in the year-ago month.

Car sales surged 9.6 percent to 48,445, while truck sales fell 8.2 percent to 36,773.

GM shares rose 18 cents to $32.08 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange, while Ford shares fell 4 cents to $7.87 and DaimlerChrysler's U.S. shares lost 19 cents to $67.88.

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