- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2006

DETROIT (AP) — Toyota trounced the domestic automakers in the U.S. last month, posting a 25 percent year-over-year sales increase. General Motors and DaimlerChrysler each saw their sales slip by a few percentage points, while Ford sales gained 4.7 percent.

GM’s sales fell 3.1 percent last month, but the nation’s largest automaker put a positive spin on the decline, attributing it to a reduction in low-margin sales to rental companies. The company’s car sales fell 6.4 percent, while trucks, including pickups and sport utility vehicles, were down 0.7 percent. The numbers include the Saab brand.

DaimlerChrysler said its overall decrease of 2.3 percent mostly stemmed from its Chrysler Group, where sales fell 3.8 percent. Mercedes-Benz sales rose 13.2 percent.

At Chrysler, car sales plunged 26.6 percent, while trucks rose 4.3 percent.

Ford’s increase over the same month last year was fueled largely by car sales, which rose 26.2 percent, while its truck sales fell 5.5 percent. The figures are for all Ford brands, including Jaguar, Volvo and Land Rover.

Ford yesterday announced year-end, zero percent financing on most of its 2006 models, including pickups.

The U.S.-based automakers’ reliance on trucks for a majority of their U.S. vehicle sales has helped Asian automakers gain market share. Gasoline prices have fallen over the past two months to $2.30 a gallon Monday from $3 earlier this year, according to AAA data.

Toyota’s car sales rose 18.4 percent, while truck sales soared 34.9 percent, the Japanese automaker reported yesterday.

“While crossovers, hybrids and small cars continue to show strength, our SUVs and full-size trucks also posted solid gains,” said Jim Lentz, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Sales. “It’s the breadth of our lineup that enables us to satisfy today’s buyers.”

Sales of the Tundra pickup soared 74 percent, though at 12,609 units, they were still far below the Ford F-Series, with 70,822 units sold, and the Chevrolet Silverado, with 51,964.

Toyota spokesman Xavier Dominicis said Tundra sales were partly spurred by fall incentives aimed at making room for the 2007 model, which goes on sale in February. The offers vary by region, he said.

Honda Motor Co. reported a sales decrease of 4.1 percent, with cars falling 13 percent. But, like Toyota, it had good news in the truck segment, with sales rising 11.6 percent.

Nissan Motor Co., which is currently in talks with GM about teaming up in an alliance, said its sales slipped 5.6 percent, including an 11.1 percent decrease for cars and a 2.7 percent increase for trucks.

GM’s board met yesterday to discuss the alliance with Renault and Nissan.

GM said its September sales were in line with expectations and predicted good results in the future, thanks to more fuel-efficient vehicles.

“Having products like the Chevrolet Cobalt, Malibu and newly redesigned 2007 Aveo in such high demand in the market place is gratifying,” said Mark LaNeve, vice president for GM sales, service and marketing. “We will go even further for the 2007 model year by increasing the number of fuel-sipping vehicle models in the ‘30 mpg or Over Club’ by nine vehicles, or more than 60 percent, to 23 models.”

Chrysler also touted new, more fuel-efficient offerings, including the Dodge Caliber and the Jeep Compass.

While the news was good for Ford, the figures don’t necessarily signal a turnaround for the struggling automaker. Ford had relatively low sales in September 2005 because of high summer sales prompted by deep discounts and high September gas prices after Hurricane Katrina struck.

The midsize cars were not offered in September of last year, and Mustang sales were up 31 percent, the company said.

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