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GM US Sales Fall as Toyota,  Ford Report Gains

General Motors said its U.S. light vehicle sales fell 11 percent in November as consumer demand softened, while Toyota Motor and Ford Motor defied expectations by reporting small sales increases for the month.

AP

GM said it sold 261,273 light vehicles in the United States last month compared to 293,558 vehicles a year earlier.

The world's biggest manufacturer of automobiles said the weak housing market and high gas prices have dampened consumer enthusiasm for new cars.

Car sales were down 4.5 percent, while truck sales fell 15.5 percent.

GM said its inventory at the end of November stood at 993,000 vehicles. down 97,000 from a year before.

The largest U.S. automaker also revised its fourth-quarter production forecast to 1.03 million vehicles, up 3 percent from its earlier estimate.

GM set its first-quarter production for 2008 at 950,000 units, down 11 percent from a year earlier, as demand is expected to continue to soften amid a weak housing market and high gasoline prices.

GM's Arch-rival Toyota, meanwhile, said its U.S. sales rose 0.3 percent to 197,189 vehicles.

The Japanese automaker sold 98,749 passenger cars, an increase of 6.1 percent over last year in the United States. Light truck sales slipped 4.4 percent to 73,592.

"Rising fuel prices and sliding home values delivered a one-two punch this month," said Jim Lentz, Toyota Motor Sales USA executive vice president. "But the industry's not down for the count. Demand for fresh, more fuel-efficient products continues to show strength."

Lexus passenger cars reported sales of 14,892 units, a decrease of 7.8 percent from November 2006 for the luxury division.

Toyota's year-to-date hybrid vehicles sales totaled 253,466 units, an increase of 45 percent over the same period last year, the company said.

Also Monday, Ford turned in a 0.4 percent increase in U.S. sales, versus analysts' forecast of a 4.1 percent decline. The company sold 182,951 vehicles.

Results for the embattled automaker include its import brands and some medium- and heavy-duty trucks. Ford's car sales declined 2.4 percent to 60,383 vehicles, but truck sales rose 1.8 percent to 122,568.

Retail sales of the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands fell 3 percent in November, while sales to daily rental companies fell 6 percent.

Sales to commercial fleet and government customers, however, rose 25 percent.

Ford said it plans to produce 685,000 vehicles in North America in the first quarter, down from 740,000 units a year earlier.

Privately held Chrysler said that its U.S. sales slipped 2 percent in November as falling home prices and rising gas prices hurt consumer demand.

Chrysler said it delivered 161,088 new vehicles in the United States in November, compared with 164,556 a year earlier.

Other Japanese Automakers Are November Winners

Both Nissan Motorand Honda Motor posted solid U.S. sales gains for the month.

Nissan said its U.S. sales rose 6.1 percent in November.

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Sales for Nissan-brand vehicles rose 6.8 percent, while sales for the automaker's luxury Infiniti unit were up 2.1 percent from a year earlier, Nissan's Senior Vice President for U.S. Sales Mark McNabb told Reuters.

"It was a tough market," McNabb said. "It was tougher than I anticipated."

Honda Motor said its U.S. sales rose 4.7 percent, driven by increased demand for its crossover vehicles and small cars.

The Japanese automaker said it sold 111,431 vehicles in the United States last month, including results for its luxury Acura brand. That compared with 106,446 vehicles a year earlier.

'Familiar Litany of Concerns'

Overall U.S. auto sales were seen slipping in November as concerns about the strength of the economy and fallout from the collapse of the U.S. housing market keeps buyers from showrooms, analysts said.

Vehicle sales, widely watched as a leading indicator of consumer spending, began slowing in the second quarter and are on track to finish the year with the lowest tally since 1998.

With concern mounting about the risk of recession, many analysts are now expecting a continued slide in U.S. vehicle sales through 2008, which would mark the third-consecutive year of lost sales.

Goldman Sachs analyst Robert Barry recently cut his 2008 U.S. sales estimate to 15.6 million vehicles on an industry-wide basis from 16 million, citing growing concerns on the overall U.S. economy.

In citing the reasons for his lowered outlook, Barry mentioned "a now-familiar litany of concerns related to housing and gas prices and the U.S. consumer sentiment to near-recession levels."

-- Reuters contributed to this report.

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