- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

DETROIT (AP) — Ford Motor Co.’s U.S. sales fell nearly 41 percent in March, as low consumer confidence and job uncertainty continued to keep buyers away from showrooms.

The Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker said Wednesday it sold 131,102 cars and light trucks last month, compared with 221,642 in March 2008.

However, the company’s March sales improved 32 percent from February, when the automaker sold 99,060 vehicles and the U.S. sales overall hit their lowest point in more than 27 years.

Also Wednesday, Honda Motor Co. said its sales dropped 36 percent. Other automakers were slated to release their results later in the day.

The global economic summit has resulted in the plummeting automobile sales across the world.

Unlike General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Inc., Ford has not needed federal aid to survive the downturn.

Shares of Ford slipped a penny to $2.62 in Wednesday afternoon trading.

Sales are generally better in March as warmer temperatures help drive people to showrooms, but analysts expect to see little improvement from February industrywide. That’s despite a record level of incentive spending by automakers last month, according to Edmunds.com.

The average incentive on vehicles sold last month was $3,169, up 30 percent from a year earlier, the car-buying Web site said. General Motors and Hyundai Motor Co. spent more on incentives than they ever have, while Ford said its incentive spending was the same as a year ago.

In a further effort to boost sales, Ford announced its “Advantage Program” on Monday. It will pay customers’ monthly payments — up to $700 — for a year if they lose their jobs.

The automaker said its car and crossover segment is doing well, with 61 percent of sales coming in that segment.

“People are still moving to the car and crossover segment, which we view is right in our sweet spot this year,” said George Pipas, Ford’s top sales analyst.

Ford said sales of its Focus compact car fell 42 percent, and sales of its top seller, the F-series pickups, fell 40 percent. Sales of the Expedition and Explorer sport utility vehicles plummeted 73 percent.

The Associated Press reports unadjusted auto sales 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. There were 25 sales days last month, one less than in March 2008.

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