Ford Sales Down 6 Percent, GM Down 1 Percent in 2001

Ford Motor Co. reported Thursday its sales dropped 6 percent in 2001 from a year earlier, while General Motors Corp., the nation's largest automaker, said 2001 sales fell 1 percent despite a December spike fueled by interest-free loans.

Both automakers said the industry was still on pace to record its second-best year ever for vehicle sales.

Sales figures released Thursday by the automakers also appear to be bearing out predictions that light trucks would outsell passenger cars for the first time in history.

Total industry sales expected to be more than 17 million units. The year 2000 was the best on record with light vehicle sales of 17.4 million units. In 1999, 17 million vehicles were sold.

While GM, the world's largest automaker, reported a decline for the year, December vehicle sales rose 7 percent compared with a year earlier.

The late year sales momentum was powered by a 32-percent rise in GM light truck sales in December, offsetting a 19-percent decline in its passenger car sales last month.

"We're likely to look back on this period of time in determining that consumers are happier and more resilient than we thought they were,'' Paul Ballew, GM executive director for market and industry analysis, said in a conference call with financial analysts and reporters.

Ballew credited GM's "Keep America Rolling'' zero-percent interest program with fueling the surge in sales since it began in late September.

The costly program, which expired Wednesday, is being replaced by a new offer of a $2,002 cash rebate on 2001 and 2002 model year vehicle purchased or leased through the end of February, GM announced Thursday.

Capping off a troubled year that included the Firestone tire controversy, the departure of CEO Jacques Nasser, quality concerns and declining earnings, Ford Motor Co. reported Thursday its sales dropped 6 percent in 2001 from a year earlier.

Ford's sales during December were just three-tenths of a percent better than in December 2000, hurt by a 25 percent drop in passenger car sales.

But its F-series pickup trucks remained the best-selling vehicle in the United States for the 20th straight year, Ford said.

"We faced intensified competition and would expect that again in 2002,'' Jim O'Connor, president, Ford Division, said in a conference call with financial analysts and reporters.

BMW of North America LLC reported an 11 percent decline in vehicle sales last month compared with December 2000. For the year, the German automaker posted a 12.5 percent increase, making 2001 its best sales year to date in the United States.

Strong sales of its new A4 model powered Audi of America to its best-ever U.S. sales during 2001. For the year, sales of Audi vehicles were up 3.6 percent over 2000, despite a 3-percent decline during December.

Volkswagen of America Inc. reported a half-percent increase in sales over 2000, and a 9.3 percent increase in December compared with a year earlier.

Volvo Cars of North America recorded its best year in the United States, selling 125,710 vehicles, 2,532 vehicles or 2 percent more than it sold during 2000.

Reflecting the resurgence of South Korean automaker Hyundai Motor America, the company reported record December sales, up 39 percent from a year earlier. For the year, Hyundai's sales rose 42 percent over 2000.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.