- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

From combined dispatches
Ford Motor Co.'s sales of new cars and trucks were flat in February while sales at DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group fell 4 percent and General Motors Corp. sales dropped 19 percent as the industry faced an uncertain economy and winter storms hampered business in parts of the country.
Ford the world's No. 2 automaker, behind General Motors said yesterday that its car sales rose 3 percent last month, while light-truck volume which includes pickups, sport utility vehicles, vans and minivans was down about 1 percent.
Most analysts expected Ford's February sales to be about the same as last year. Chrysler's numbers were better than some forecasts.
Dealer promotions such as zero percent financing and other discounts did not lure uncertain consumers into showrooms.
"The promotions were in full force, but the effectiveness wasn't there," said Dan Poole, vice president of equity research at National City Corp., which manages $23 billion, including Ford and General Motors shares. "It was as if the industry was pushing on a string."
General Motors' sales of cars and light trucks dropped to 333,572 from 411,111. Ford's dropped to 268,196 vehicles, 208 fewer than in February 2002, and Chrysler's dropped to 170,614 vehicles from 178,642.
"February was a challenging month," said Jim O'Connor, Ford's group vice president for North American marketing, sales and service. "Plagued by uncertainty and paralyzing weather no wonder consumer confidence slumped."
The Conference Board reported last week that consumer confidence in the U.S. economy plunged to its lowest level in nearly 10 years in February as Americans grew bleak about jobs and oil prices in the face of a showdown with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Mr. O'Connor said he expected the volatility in monthly sales and economic data to continue in the coming months.
Ford's Mercury brand sales were off 14 percent from the year-ago period, and Lincoln sales were down 5 percent.
Chrysler car sales were down 2 percent last month. Truck sales were down 5 percent.
Chrysler's top performers included the Jeep Liberty and Dodge Durango, each of which saw sales rise 3 percent over last year, and the Dodge Caravan minivan, which was up 17 percent.
Gary Dilts, Chrysler's senior vice president for sales, said consumers would be hard-pressed to find a better time to buy a new vehicle, thanks to depressed prices and lucrative incentives.
"Industry analysts tell us the affordability index for new vehicles is the best it's been in the past 25 years," Mr. Dilts said.
Many East Coast dealers had to close their dealerships for the typically busy Presidents Day weekend because of a massive snowstorm. That, along with rising gasoline prices, has slowed business considerably for new cars and trucks.
In trading on the New York Stock Exchange, GM shares fell 61 cents to close at $33.16, while Ford shares dropped 25 cents to close at $8.07. Chrysler's U.S. shares fell 4 cents, to $30.53.

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