- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2008

DETROIT (AP) — All major automakers except for General Motors Corp. saw their U.S. sales drop in January to start what industry analysts have predicted will be the worst auto sales year in the United States in more than a decade.

GM, led by strong crossover vehicle sales, reported an increase of 2.6 percent in January when compared with the same month last year.

But Toyota Motor Corp., which had seen strong growth last year, said yesterday its light-vehicle sales dropped 2.3 percent, to 171,849 in January from 175,850 in January 2006. Its performance was still strong enough to beat Ford for the No. 2 U.S. sales spot.

GM said yesterday it sold 250,926 light vehicles in January, up from 244,614 in the same month last year. It saw the increase despite cutting low-profit sales to rental fleets by 6 percent last month to a total of 26 percent of sales. The world’s largest automaker by sales said its car sales rose 0.2 percent, while truck sales were up 4.3 percent.

GM’s truck increase was fueled by strong sales of its new crossover vehicles, the Buick Enclave, Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia, which the company said had a combined sales increase of 134 percent.

Mark DiGiovanni, GM’s executive director of global market and industry analysis, said January’s results were the result of a several-year effort to improve products and win market share back from competition.

“This isn’t a one-hit wonder,” Mr. DiGiovanni said. “It’s not a one-month blip. It’s a 2½-year trend.”

Toyota saw car sales fall 5.7 percent due in large part to an 18.7 percent drop in sales of its Corolla small car. But truck sales were up 2.2 percent, including a 91 percent increase in Tundra pickup sales.

At Ford Motor Co., sales declined 4 percent even when compared with a weak performance a year ago. The company said it sold 159,355 light vehicles for the month as it continued a strategy to wean itself from low-profit rental car sales. George Pipas, Ford’s top U.S. sales analyst, said sales to daily rental fleets were down 5 percent in January.

Chrysler LLC saw its U.S. sales drop 12.1 percent as the company tried to cut fleet sales. Chrysler’s car sales were up more than 25 percent year over year, but truck sales dropped 23.5 percent.

Nissan Motor Co. sales dipped 7.3 percent for January when compared with the same month a year ago. The company reported selling 76,605 vehicles for the month, down from 82,644 a year ago. Car sales dropped 6.9 percent while truck sales dived 7.9 percent, the company said.

Honda Motor Co. sales fell 2.3 percent from 100,790 in January 2007 to 98,511 last month.

Ford’s car sales dropped 10.3 percent, while its truck sales slipped 0.7 percent.

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