Toyota's U.S. Sales Fall While GM Posts Gain

Toyota Motor on Tuesday said its August U.S. sales fell 2.8 percent, citing weaker consumer confidence due to a meltdown in the subprime mortgage market.

Toyota and GM

The Japanese automaker said August sales totaled 233,471 vehicles, down from 240,178 units a year earlier.

Toyota's car sales were down 6 percent, but its trucks were up 2 percent compared with August of last year. Its figures include the Lexus and Infiniti brands.

Toyota said it is sticking to its forecast for a sales increase of 5 percent to 7 percent in the U.S. in 2007.

The Japanese automaker, which saw sales fall nearly 3 percent in August, said consumers were holding back on big purchases such as autos.

Toyota Motor Sales group vice president Bob Carter told reporters on a conference call the turmoil in the credit markets is beginning to impact consumer confidence.

Toyota beat Ford Motor for the month. But Ford managed to hold off the Japanese automotive powerhouse and remain the nation's No. 2 automaker for the first eight months of the year.

Ford sold 1.792 million vehicles through August, with Toyota close behind at 1.789 million.

Meanwhile, General Motors said U.S. sales rose more than 5 percent in August, boosted by strong demand for its pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.

But GM cut its third-quarter North American production forecast by 2 percent from last month's outlook to 1.050 million vehicles and set its fourth-quarter production target at 1 million vehicles, down 10 percent from a year before.

Percent changes are based on the daily sales rate, and reflect 27 selling days this month compared with 27 in the month last year.

Major Automakers

Overall, GM sold 385,529 light vehicles in August, compared with 363,521 in the same month last year.

GM's car sales dropped 7.8 percent, but its truck sales rose 16.6 percent for the month due in part to rising incentives on new pickup truck models. GM sales include Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Hummer, GMC, Pontiac and Saturn, as well as the European Saab brand.

Paul Ballew, GM's executive director of global market and industry analysis, said that despite his company's increase, all automakers are being hit by economic uncertainty. High gasoline prices and declining home values have caused people to delay auto purchases or exit the market altogether, he said.

"The industry is certainly feeling the effect of macroeconomic events," he said.

Market Downturn Drags on Ford

Ford Motor's sales dropped 14.4 percent in August as the struggling automaker ran into a declining market that analysts blame on rising mortgage payments and turmoil in the financial markets.

Ford, the first automaker to release monthly U.S. sales numbers on Tuesday, has blamed declining sales through the year on efforts to wean itself off low-profit sales to rental car companies and other fleet buyers.

Its car sales fell 33.7 percent to 64,864 versus the same month last year, while light truck sales slipped 2.3 percent to 152,572, the company reported.

In August, sales to individual retail customers fell 13 percent, but daily rental sales dropped 44 percent, the company said.

The company also said that it plans to make 640,000 vehicles in the fourth quarter, up 6 percent from the same quarter of 2006. Third-quarter production plans also are 640,000 vehicles, the same as previously forecast, Ford said.

Ford said sales of its new crossover vehicles, the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX, continued to rise, with 10,165 Edges and 3,421 MKXs sold in August. But sales of F-Series pickup trucks, generally the top-selling vehicle in the U.S., dropped 9.9 percent.

Ford's two top-selling cars, the mid-sized Fusion and the small Focus, both saw big drops in August, with the Focus down 14.7 percent and the Fusion off 19.1 percent.

Ford's sales include the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands as well as Volvo, Jaguar and Land Rover.

In an effort to boost sales this month, Ford also announced that it would offer up to $1,000 cash incentives on most 2007 and 2008 models on top of all existing sales and lease offers. The offer runs through Oct. 1.

Ford's sales are a sign that the overall U.S. auto market will continue its slowdown in August as predicted by industry analysts.

The automotive forecasting company CSM Worldwide has predicted that U.S. sales will total 16.2 million in 2007, or 350,000 fewer vehicles than last year. That would be the lowest annual sales level since 1998 and more than 1 million vehicles lower than the peak of 17.3 million in 2000, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank.

Chrysler said on Tuesday its U.S. sales fell 6 percent in August as the automaker cut back on sales to daily rental companies.

Chrysler said it sold 168,203 vehicles in the United States last month, compared with 179,165 a year earlier.

"Overall, the industry experienced softer sales in August than a year ago," Darryl Jackson, vice president of U.S. sales for Chrysler, said in a statement, adding that Chrysler's fleet sales are down more than 20 percent from the same month last year.

Nissan Motor

posted a 6.3% increase in August U.S. sales from a year earlier, boosted by gains for its flagship Altima sedan, the automaker's U.S. sales chief said on Tuesday.

Nissan sold 85,275 of its Nissan-branded vehicles, up 6 percent from a year earlier, while sales for its luxury Infiniti brand were up 8.7 percent to 10,252 vehicles, Mark McNabb, Nissan's senior vice president for sales told Reuters.