- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2003

DETROIT (AP) — Detroit’s Big Three automakers each reported that July sales declined from a year ago, but last month’s industrywide results were the best so far this year and automakers appear optimistic about prospects for the rest of 2003.

General Motors Corp., the world’s largest automaker, said yesterday that sales of its brands, excluding Saab, were off 5.7 percent in July. Car sales were down 11.6 percent. Truck volume fell 1.5 percent.

Ford Motor Co.’s total sales fell 11.5 percent while DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group saw its sales drop 7.5 percent in July.

The GM results were better than many forecasts from Wall Street analysts, who said they expected sharp year-over-year industry declines because of beefed-up incentives used by automakers last year to clear their lots.

The result was an extraordinarily high seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of 18.1 million in July 2002.

“Considering the very tough comparison to a record year-ago performance, we’re very pleased with our results in July,” said John Smith, group vice president for GM’s North American sales, service and marketing division.

GM had its best month of the year in truck sales. On the car side, the Chevrolet Impala, Cadillac CTS and Pontiac Vibe all posted record July sales results.

No. 2 Ford said U.S. sales of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury cars were off 24 percent, while light truck sales, which include pickups, minivans and sport utility vehicles, were down 4 percent.

Sales of Ford’s F-Series trucks, which account for one-fourth of the company’s volume, were up 15 percent from last July. Ford recently launched its all-new F-150 pickup.

Another bright spot for the automaker: Jaguar and Volvo, members of Ford’s premium lineup, both set July sales records. Jaguar was led by the new XJ sedan, Volvo by the XC90 SUV.

“The pace of auto sales continues to improve,” said Jim O’Connor, Ford’s group vice president for North American marketing, sales and service.

“Almost every piece of incoming economic data has been positive,” Mr. O’Connor said. “Good consumer spending gains and recent reports on manufacturing and jobless claims are encouraging.”

Chrysler’s car sales fell 31 percent from a year ago, while its truck sales were nearly flat.

Among Chrysler’s top sellers in July were the Pacifica, Town & Country minivan, Dodge Ram pickup and Jeep Liberty and Wrangler.

Chrysler reported last month that it lost more than $1 billion in the second quarter, due largely to its efforts to compete against GM and Ford in the intense and expensive domestic incentives battle.

“The market is definitely challenging,” said Gary Dilts, DaimlerChrysler’s senior vice president for sales. “There’s no silver bullet. Consumers are looking for value across all segments, and meeting that requirement takes a combination of elements.”

Ford’s results were in line with most analysts’ forecasts. Chrysler’s results were slightly lower than anticipated.

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