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Ford, GM Sales Fell in December; Toyota, DaimlerChrysler Gained

DaimlerChrysler's December U.S. auto sales rose 2.9%, while General Motors' sales fell 9.6% and Ford Motor's sales declined 9.4% for the same period, CNBC's Phil LeBeau reported.

Meanwhile, Toyota Motor's sales rose 16.6% to 228,000 vehicles, a healthy increase but still 5,000 automobiles short of Ford's December total.

CNBC determines auto sales by taking total sales and adjusting for the number of selling days in the month, and calculates the percentage change from the year prior using the sales-per-day number. Though DaimlerChrysler's U.S. sales were down in total, they are up 2.9% when calculated on that basis. CNBC calculates other automakers' sales comparisons in the same way.

DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group said total U.S. vehicle sales fell 1% in December. Chrysler Group, which includes the Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brands, said its sales rose 1%, while Mercedes-Benz sales fell 10% compared with a year earlier, the company
said.

General Motors said its U.S. December sales fell 9.6% from a year earlier, driven by a decline in truck sales.

The world's largest automaker sold 341,327 vehicles in the United States last month, compared with 392,041 vehicles a year earlier.

GM lowered its first-quarter 2007 production forecast to 1.120 million vehicles -- 455,000 cars and 665,000 trucks -- down 20,000 vehicles from its previous target announced last month.

The majority of the production decrease is attributed to GM's efforts to reduce low-margin daily rental fleet sales, the company said.

Both GM and Ford have launched year-end incentives to boost sales. Both programs, which run through Jan. 2, offer cash incentives. Ford's program also includes interest-free financing for up to 60 months on some 2006 vehicles.

Ford said its U.S. December vehicle sales fell 13% from a year earlier, based on straight monthly totals, partly from lower demand for its F-Series pickup trucks. Street expectations had put Ford's sales decline at 6.5%, LeBeau said.

The second-largest U.S. automaker said it sold 233,621 vehicles in the United States last month, compared with 267,881 vehicles in December of 2005.

"The (Ford) decrease is mostly a result of tough year end competition coupled with a weak product cadence," Merrill Lynch analyst John Murphy said in a note to investors on Friday.

Toyota Stays in Third Behind Ford

Japan's Toyota Motor came in just below Ford at 228,322 vehicles sold, the companies reported.

Some analysts had expected Ford's sales to drop enough in December for Toyota to take the No. 2 spot. But even though its truck sales declined dramatically, car sales rose enough to keep Ford ahead of Toyota.

Toyota beat Ford in July and November, and analysts have predicted that it will overtake Ford as the No. 2 seller of automobiles in the U.S. in 2007.

For the year, Ford's sales were down about 8% to 2,918,674, due largely to a decline in truck and sport utility vehicle sales and the end of production for the Taurus sedan. Merrill Lynch's Murphy had estimated Ford would lose 1.2 percentage points of market share in 2006.

Toyota reported its best year ever for 2006, with sales up 12.9% for the year at more than 2,542,524 vehicles.

Winners of 2006

Toyota is the big winner in 2006, with sales up 12.5% through November.

Asian automakers gained in 2006 because customers preferred smaller SUVs and cars over larger gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles, partly due to high gasoline prices.

Toyota, Nissan Motor, Honda Motor and Hyundai have a strong car line-up. U.S. automakers, on the other hand, have relied to a greater extent on the large SUVs.

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