Automakers reported double-digit U.S. sales declines last month as demand for trucks and sport-utility vehicles plummeted and consumers...
DETROIT — Automakers reported double-digit U.S. sales declines last month as demand for trucks and sport-utility vehicles plummeted and consumers held back because of concerns about gas prices, the housing slump and tightening credit.
General Motors and Chrysler both reported a 19 percent drop in U.S. sales Tuesday. Ford’s sales dropped 14 percent and even industry stalwart Toyota was down 10 percent compared with last March. Nissan fell 4 percent, and Honda reported a 3 percent drop. Some automakers warned things could keep getting worse in the near term.
“I’d like to be able to tell you that the worst is behind us, but I really can’t give you that assurance,” Jim Farley, Ford’s sales and marketing chief, said in a conference call.
GM’s truck and SUV sales were down 22 percent last month while its car sales fell 14 percent. New vehicles like the Chevrolet Malibu were a bright spot, with sales up 17 percent, but sales of Chevrolet pickups were down 25 percent while sales of GM’s gas-guzzling Hummer brand fell 29 percent. GM’s sales fell 11 percent for the first quarter.
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“There’s no question that the industry and the economy is in a weakened state,” said Mike DiGiovanni, GM’s executive director of global markets and industry analysis. “We expected the first three quarters to be weak, and this has exceeded what we thought.”
Mark LaNeve, GM’s vice president for North American sales and marketing, said a monthlong strike by American Axle that has idled or shut down 30 factories that make GM trucks, cars and SUVs has cut GM’s production by 100,000 vehicles.
But he said slow sales and a high inventory before the strike has minimized the impact. LaNeve said truck and SUV supplies were “more than adequate” for spring, but he wouldn’t speculate on whether the strike will hurt hotter sellers like the Malibu.
“We don’t believe that it’s affected retail business one bit to date,” LaNeve said.
A 24 percent jump in sales for Ford’s popular Edge crossover couldn’t make up for falling sales of pickups and large SUVs. Ford’s truck and SUV sales dropped 16 percent versus March 2007.
Ford’s car sales fell 10 percent, dragged by declining demand for the Ford Mustang and Crown Victoria sedan. Ford’s overall sales for the first quarter were down 9 percent.
Toyota, which beat Ford to become the No. 2 automaker by U.S. sales last year, held onto its lead in the first quarter, outselling Ford by more than 43,000 vehicles. But Toyota took a beating last month, reporting truck and SUV sales down 14 percent and car sales off 7 percent.
Chrysler’s car sales fell 13 percent and its truck sales plunged 22 percent, in part because it cut low-profit sales to rental car agencies. Chrysler saw no boost from its much-hyped, newly redesigned Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Caravan minivans, which saw sales drop 2 percent and 21 percent, respectively. Chrysler’s sales fell 16 percent for the quarter.
Honda, which had bucked the downward trend in February, saw its 3 percent increase in car sales eroded by a 12 percent decline in truck and SUV sales.
Nissan reported a 10 percent increase in car sales, led by the subcompact Versa and the newly redesigned Altima. But Nissan’s truck and SUV sales plummeted 20 percent. Nissan’s overall sales were down 4 percent for the quarter.
Truck sales have been hurt by the slowdown in housing construction. Small cars fared best as consumers focused on fuel efficiency.
Sales of the Ford Focus jumped 24 percent for the month, while Toyota’s subcompact Yaris saw sales rise 83 percent and Honda’s subcompact Fit surged 74 percent.