GM Sales Up, Toyota and Ford Slump in August

Toyota and Ford on Tuesday each reported sales declines last month, but General Motors Corp surprised industry analysts by showing an increase.

Toyota's 2.8 percent decline and Ford's 14.4 percent drop were symptoms of what analysts expected to be a declining U.S. auto market in August and the rest of the year due to rising mortgage payments and turmoil in the financial markets.

But GM (GM), led by increased pickup truck sales, showed an increase of 6.1 percent, and Nissan Motor Co. (NSANY) reported sales increased 6.3 percent for August.

Toyota Motor Corp (TM), with 233,471 vehicles sold in August, beat Ford for the month. But Ford Motor Co. managed to hold off the Japanese automotive powerhouse and remain the nation's No. 2 automaker for the first eight months of the year. Ford sold 1.792 million vehicles through August, with Toyota close behind at 1.789 million.

Ford (F) has blamed declining sales through the year on efforts to wean itself off low-profit sales to rental car companies and other fleet buyers. Ford also said it had heavy incentives that boosted sales in August of last year.

Ford's car sales of 64,864 were off 33.7 percent when compared with the same month last year, while light truck sales slipped 2.3 percent to 152,572, the company reported.

In August, sales to individual retail customers were down 13 percent, but daily rental sales dropped 44 percent, the company said.

Overall, GM sold 385,529 light vehicles in August, compared with 363,521 in the same month last year.

GM's car sales dropped 7.8 percent, but its truck sales rose 16.6 percent for the month due in part to rising incentives on new pickup truck models. GM sales include Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Hummer, GMC, Pontiac and Saturn, as well as the European Saab brand.

Toyota's car sales were down 6 percent, but its trucks were up 2 percent compared with August of last year. Its figures include the Lexus and Infiniti brands.

Nissan truck sales, led by the full-sized Titan pickup, rose 7.9 percent versus a year ago, while its car sales were up 4.1 percent. Its figures include the Nissan and Infiniti brands. Nissan sold 95,527 vehicles in August, compared with 89,848 in the same month last year.

Paul Ballew, GM's executive director of global market and industry analysis, said that despite his company's increase, all automakers are being hit by economic uncertainty. High gasoline prices and declining home values have caused people to delay auto purchases or exit the market altogether, he said.

"The industry is certainly feeling the effect of macroeconomic events," he said.

Ford said sales of its new crossover vehicles, the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX, rose in August, with 10,165 Edges and 3,421 MKXs sold. But sales of F-Series pickup trucks, generally the top-selling vehicle in the U.S., were down 9.9 percent.

Ford's two top-selling cars, the mid-sized Fusion and the small Focus, both saw big drops in August, with the Focus down 14.7 percent and the Fusion off 19.1 percent.

Ford's sales include the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands as well as Volvo, Jaguar and Land Rover.

In an effort to boost sales this month, Ford also announced that it would offer up to $1,000 cash incentives on most 2007 and 2008 models on top of all existing sales and lease offers. The offer runs through Oct. 1.

The automotive forecasting company CSM Worldwide predicted that U.S. sales will total 16.2 million in 2007, or 350,000 fewer vehicles than last year. That would be the lowest annual sales level since 1998 and more than 1 million vehicles lower than the peak of 17.3 million in 2000, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank.

GM shares rose 98 cents, or 3.2 percent, to $31.72 in afternoon trading Tuesday, while Ford shares rose 17 cents to $7.98 and Toyota's U.S. shares rose $1.37 to $117.05.