- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2006

DETROIT (AP) — Toyota reported a 17 percent increase in its U.S. sales in August, while General Motors Corp. sales increased 3.9 percent from a year ago as the companies said buyers looked to more fuel-efficient offerings. But Ford’s sales dropped 11.6 percent, and sales by Honda and DaimlerChrysler each fell 3.2 percent.

Ford outsold Toyota last month after its U.S. sales trailed the Japanese automaker in July for the first month ever.

Toyota Motor Corp. said gas-conscious consumers made last month its best-ever August selling period in the United States. It sold 240,178 vehicles in August, up from 205,362 in the same month a year ago.

Sales of Toyota and Lexus cars rose 19.9 percent to 144,144 from 120,198, while light-truck sales rose 12.8 percent to 96,034 from 85,164.

“We are grateful to have the fuel-efficient models today’s market demands,” said Jim Lentz, executive vice president of Toyota’s U.S. division. “But it’s the strength of our dealer network which is proving increasingly central to our growth.”

GM sold 156,723 passenger cars, up 3.9 percent from 150,900 the same month a year ago. And its truck sales rose 4 percent to 206,798 from 198,906. But GM also said it expects about a 12 percent decrease in North American production during the fourth quarter. GM’s August sales included Saab.

“This was one of the stronger retail months of 2006, with our performance led by such launch vehicles as the Pontiac Torrent and G6, Saturn Sky, Chevrolet Cobalt, Impala and Buick Lucerne,” said Mark LaNeve, GM’s vice president of vehicle sales for North America. “Importantly, we’re capitalizing on the sale of fuel-efficient cars and trucks.”

GM said that while its car sales were up, it also showed strength in sport utility vehicles and trucks. But part of the reason for GM’s sales increase was because its employee pricing for all promotion ended in August 2005, and the company’s sales slumped.

Paul Ballew, executive director of global market and industry analysis for GM, said sales of small SUVs were up 18 percent in August, while full-size SUVs rose 11 percent. Full-size pickups, GM’s largest-selling vehicles, were up 21 percent, he said.

In the full-size pickup category, Mr. Ballew said the industry is headed back toward a more normal sales volume for the rest of the year.

“We feel like things have stabilized a bit,” he said in a conference call.

GM is making a transition into a new series of pickup trucks in the fall, and Toyota also plans a new full-size pickup.

But Ford Motor Co.’s sales fell as buyers continued to shift away from its trucks and SUVs. Sales of Ford SUVs and trucks, which the automaker has depended on for most of its revenue, fell 20.8 percent compared with August 2005, but car sales grew by 8.5 percent.

The company said the increased car sales were fueled by higher demand for its new mid-size sedans including the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr.

Chrysler Group, which includes the Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brands, had sales of 179,165, down 4.2 percent from 187,085 vehicles last year. It sold 34,896 cars, down 15.1 percent to 41,100 from a year ago, and 144,269 trucks, down 1.2 percent from 145,985 in the same month in 2005.

Yesterday, Chrysler said it was bringing back zero-percent financing for 72 months on most 2006 models in an effort to clear lots for 2007 cars and trucks. The program runs through Oct. 2.

Honda Motor Co. reported record sales of its light trucks, a 14.8 percent increase to 69,385 from 60,451, but its car sales fell 14.5 percent to 81,868 from 95,722. Overall, including the Acura brand, Honda sold 151,253 vehicles for the month compared with 156,173 in August 2005.

“Honda has successfully achieved year-over-year increases for more than a decade,” said Dick Colliver, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co. “The arrival of the all-new 2007 CR-V as well as the Civic Si sedan should allow us to continue our strong year-to-date momentum.”

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