- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2004

DETROIT (AP) — General Motors Corp. fell short in its bid to increase U.S. market share for a third straight year as the world’s largest automaker, along with Detroit rivals Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group, saw sales decline in 2003.

At the same time, some foreign automakers posted record results for the year, including Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and BMW Group. A variety of new vehicles helped several foreign brands expand their stake in the U.S. market in 2003, but analysts say an upcoming product offensive by Detroit’s Big Three could make such gains more difficult this year.

GM, which will introduce 13 new models in 2004, said yesterday its sales fell 9.5 percent in December from the same period a year ago, when it poured on consumer incentives to meet year-end market-share targets and sparked extraordinarily high volume. Such a decline in sales last month was not unexpected among analysts.

For the year, GM sales were down 2.4 percent, though it set an industry sales record for trucks. In an interview yesterday during media preview days at the North American International Auto Show, GM Chairman Rick Wagoner said the industry as a whole rebounded well from sluggish sales in the first half of 2003.

Toyota’s American arm said its 2003 sales rose 6.3 percent to more than 1.8 million vehicles — the company’s best performance in its 46-year history. For the second year in a row and the sixth time in the past seven years, Toyota’s Camry was America’s best-selling vehicle.

American Honda’s sales, including the luxury Acura division, rose 8.2 percent in 2003 on record sales. While sales of Honda’s Accord were flat for the year, the automaker got a big boost from two car-based vehicles known as crossovers — the Honda Element and Pilot.

Ford, the world’s second-largest automaker, said sales of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brand cars were off nearly 21 percent last month, while truck sales — despite strong demand for the redesigned F-150 pickup — fell 2.7 percent. The outcome was an 8 percent decrease.

For the year, Ford’s sales were down 4.6 percent from a year ago.

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