=DJ Auto Makers' US Sales Fall One-Third, Capping Woeful 2008
DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
Ê Ford Motor Co. (F) posted a 32% drop in U.S. light-vehicle sales for December while Toyota Motor Co. (TM) reported a 37% drop and Honda Motor Co. (HMC) had a 35% decline, closing out the auto industry's worst year in more than 15 years and ahead of was it expected to be an even weaker 2009. Ê The grim numbers underscore how matters went from bad to worse in 2008 for auto makers as jittery consumers stayed out of showrooms. Ê As sales plunged, the Detroit Three - Ford, General Motors Corp. (GM) and Chrysler LLC - had to ask Congress for government loans to avert financial disaster. Washington agreed to a $17.4 billion loan package for GM and Chrysler under the Treasury's Troubled Asset Relief Program. (Ford has since said it doesn't currently need government loans.) Ê But the entire industry, including Japan's Toyota and Honda, is now reeling from the spiraling effects of the U.S. housing crisis, tight credit and worries about a lengthy recession. Ê Ford, however, took an optimistic view of December's results, noting that its December market share rose to 14.6%, up 0.7 pecentage point from a year ago - the first time since 1997 it had achieved a market share increase for three straight months. Ê "This is a strong ending to...a very challenging year," said marketing chief Jim Farley. Ford projected a fourth-quarter 15% market share for Ford, Lincoln and Mercury - beating the year-ago figure for the first time since 2001, it said. Ê Ford, the No. 3 U.S. auto maker by sales behind GM and Toyota, said it sold 138,325 light vehicles in December, compared with 204,446 a year earlier. There were 26 selling days in December, the same as a year earlier. Ê Retail sales for the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands fell 27%. Improving retail sales is central to Ford's restructuring plan as the company cuts back fleet sales to focus on higher-margin sales to dealerships. Fleet sales fell 42%, including a 57% decline in daily rental sales. Ê For 2008, Ford's sales fell 21% to 1.98 million vehicles. Ford, Lincoln and Mercury retail sales fell 22%, with fleet sales down 17%, including a 22% reduction in daily rental sales. Ê The trio's car sales fell 26% to 43,087 in December, while truck and van sales fell 30% to 54,295 amid a 25% drop for the F-series pickup. SUV sales slumped 52%. Ê Sales of the Edge "crossover" vehicle - designed to look and function like an SUV but boasting modestly better fuel economy - fell 57%. The Focus, once a hot-selling small car, saw a 17% decrease. Ê At Toyota, sales fell to 141,949, with similar declines recorded among cars, trucks and SUVs. The company's decline for the year was 16% to 2.22 million. Ê Meanwhile, Honda's sales totaled 86,085 for the month. For 2008, sales fell to 1.42 million from 1.55 million. Ê GM and Chrysler will report their December sales figures later this afternoon. Ê In recent trading, Ford shares were up 4.1% at $2.56 while Honda dropped 1.3% to $21.53 and Toyota fell 16 cents to $66.21.
Ê -By Mike Barris, Dow Jones Newswires; 201-938-5658;