- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 2, 2002

DETROIT (AP) A year after incentives helped the industry to its best month ever for U.S. vehicle sales, the top U.S. automakers reported yesterday that sales dropped nearly 33 percent last month compared with October 2001.

Sales for General Motors Corp., the world's largest automaker, fell nearly 32 percent in October compared with the same month a year earlier. Car sales were down 39.9 percent, while light-truck sales including pickups, sport utility vehicles, vans and minivans fell 25.7 percent.

No. 2 Ford Motor Co.'s sales were down nearly 35 percent for the period. At DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group, sales fell nearly 31 percent, with car sales down 34.7 percent and light-truck sales down 29.8 percent.

"Last month's year-over-year sales comparison was not unexpected," said Gary Dilts, Chrysler's senior vice president for sales. "The industry will be well short of that [October 2001 sales rate] in October 2002."

Last year, the lure of no-interest financing helped industry sales show a 24 percent increase. Ford's sales had jumped 36 percent to record levels compared with October 2000, while GM's October 2001 sales rose 31 percent and Chrysler's were up 5 percent.

"Looking at the broader picture, we are pleased with our overall performance for the first 10 months of the year," said Bill Lovejoy, group vice president of GM North America Vehicle Sales, Service and Marketing. "Our October retail sales were significantly higher than September results, but were down compared to an exceptionally strong October in 2001."

GM's Saab unit reported a 63 percent drop in sales last month compared with October 2001.

Earlier in the day, GM announced its latest round of incentive offers that waive down payments and interest charges and require no payments for three months on a new car or truck.

To compete for customers in the sluggish economy, Ford and Chrysler joined GM last year in offering lucrative incentives.

The 34.9 percent decline in October sales of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brand cars and trucks was compared with record sales in the same month a year ago. Car sales were down 38.8 percent compared with the same month in 2001. Light-truck sales fell 32.6 percent.

In a conference call with reporters and financial analysts, George Pipas, Ford's top sales analyst, said the company's October 2002 numbers also felt the effect of more buyers picking up new vehicles during the summer because of zero-percent financing offers.

"What we see in October is a reflection of what we saw in July and August," he said.

Ford's Jaguar unit reported sales slightly lower than in October of last year.

The automaker's Land Rover unit showed sales that rose 48 percent from those during October 2001, and its Volvo unit saw sales drop 22.7 percent from a year ago.

Figures are based on 27 selling days during October, compared with 26 sales days in October 2001.

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