GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda report decline in sales; Chrysler rises

Associated Press • May 1, 2007 at 10:12 AM

DETROIT - April was such a lousy auto sales month that every major manufacturer but Chrysler reported a decrease from the same month last year.

Even Toyota.

General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Corp. all showed declines as automakers released their monthly U.S. sales numbers on Tuesday, but the drop for Toyota Motor Corp. countered a nearly two-year trend of rising sales, sometimes in double digits.

Toyota sales, which include the Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands, dropped 4.4 percent to 210,457 last month from 219,965 in April 2006, the company said Tuesday.

It was the first year-over-year monthly decline for Toyota since May of 2005.

The Japanese automaker has seen double-digit increases in recent months and it seemed like the rising sales would never end. In March, for example, its sales jumped 11.7 percent.

"This certainly is uncharacteristic of Toyota," said Joe Barker, senior manager of global sales analysis for CSM Worldwide, an automotive forecasting firm in Northville. "I would expect them to rebound strongly next month."

U.S. light vehicle sales for all automakers declined 7.6 percent last month to 1.34 million from roughly 1.45 million a year ago, according to Autodata Corp.

Industry analysts say the bad month is a harbinger of things to come for the whole industry in the second half of the year with economic uncertainty, high consumer debt, the housing slowdown and rising gasoline prices contributing to a softer automotive market.

Consumers also are waiting for incentives to rise as many manufacturers try to reduce them, said Jesse Toprak, senior analyst for the Edmunds.com auto Web site.

"They're waiting for the next big sale and perhaps postponing their purchases because of this combination of factors," Toprak said. "They don't have a lot of confidence in the housing market, gas prices are higher."

Nissan reported the worst decline in April with sales down 18 percent from the same month a year ago. The company sold 71,124 vehicles, down from 86,720 in April of last year.

Ford Motor Co. reported a 12.9 percent decline in U.S. sales due largely to slumping car sales. Ford sold a total of 227,619 light vehicles last month, down from the 261,381 in April 2006. Car sales were off 23.6 percent, while truck sales fell 5.7 percent, the company said. General Motors Corp. sales dropped 9.5 percent from April of last year, while DaimlerChrysler AG sales were up 1.2 percent. Honda sales sank 9.1 percent from a year ago. GM sold 307,554 light vehicles in April, down from 339,796 a year earlier. Its car sales fell 10 percent, while truck sales were off 9 percent. DaimlerChrysler's overall sales increased to 213,999 from 211,365 a year ago, due to an increase at its Chrysler Group. Chrysler sales rose by 1.6 percent to 193,104 last month from 190,095 last year. Mercedes sales slipped 1.8 percent, from 21,270 to 20,895. Chrysler said it had a strong retail month, with the Jeep brand up 29 percent due largely to sales of the four-door Wrangler and Compass models. But Toprak said Chrysler led all major manufacturers in incentives with an average of about $4,000 per vehicle, and the company had not decreased its low-profit sales to fleet buyers as much as Ford and GM have. Chrysler said its sales have not been hurt by tightening of credit restrictions for buyers with marginal credit ratings. Its financial arm's loan portfolio has remained relatively stable with marginal buyers, said Michael Manley, executive vice president for international sales, marketing and business development. Honda's decline was almost as surprising as Toyota's, with the company's overall sales going from 139,124 last April to 126,419 this year. Its car sales plummeted 13.7 percent, while its truck sales were off 2.6 percent. At Ford, even the company's Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan mid-sized cars, which had been selling well in previous months, saw a decline, with Fusion sales off 2.5 percent and Milan sales down 5.4 percent. Ford's F-series pickup trucks, traditionally the top-selling vehicles in the U.S., were down 12.4 percent for the month. Nearly 60 percent of Ford's car decline was due to cancellation of the Taurus sedan, which ceased production late last year. The company sold 14,668 Tauruses in April 2006, mostly to fleet buyers. Ford pointed to the success of its new products, namely the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossover vehicles and the Ford Expedition large sport utility vehicle, as signs that it is selling vehicles people want. Expedition sales were up 27 percent for the month, while Ford sold 9,134 new Edges and 2,901 MKXs in April. The Associated Press reports unadjusted figures, calculating the percentage change in the total number of vehicles sold in one month compared with the same month a year earlier. Some automakers report percentages adjusted for sales days, which last month was 24 and in April 2006 was 26. GM shares rose 7 cents to close at $31.30 on the New York Stock Exchange, while Ford shares gained a penny to $8.05. DaimlerChrysler's U.S. shares rose 40 cents to $80.91 on the NYSE, while Toyota's U.S. shares rose 11 cents to close at $121.53. ---- On the Net: DaimlerChrysler AG: http://www.daimlerchrysler.com Ford Motor Co.: http://www.ford.com General Motors Corp.: http://www.gm.com Honda Motor Co.: http://www.honda.com Toyota Motor Corp.: http://www.toyota.com Nissan Motor Corp.: http://www.nissanusa.com AP-CS-05-01-07 1759EDT

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