Ford Drops While Rivals Gain in Auto Sales

Ford's U.S. sales fell 9.3 percent in October, leaving it slightly behind rival Toyota, which reported a 4.5 percent sales increase for last month.

Gene J. Puskar

General Motors saw its sales rise 3.3 percent -- the automaker's third consecutive monthly increase. Its car sales were flat compared with last October, and truck sales were up 5.8 percent.

Ford's sales declined to 194,762, extending a weak performance that the automaker blames largely on pulling back on low-profit sales to rental car companies.

Ford said Thursday its car sales dropped 26 percent compared with last October, while its truck sales were up 1.2 percent.

"Almost all of this is due to a previously planned reduction in daily rental sales," George Pipas, Ford's top sales analyst, said in a conference call with reporters and analysts. "This summer has been tough. Beginning in May, the daily rental reductions on a year-over-year basis have had a big impact in total sales result."

He said retail sales nearly matched levels of the same period year ago, and the automaker is pleased with its retail market share -- consistent for several months at about 13 percent.

"After years of decline," Pipas said, "it was important to arrest that and do it on the backs of new products. ... We're certainly on the way to having delivered consistent retail performance in the market for individual customers month after month after month."

Toyota, meanwhile, said it sold 197,592 vehicles in the U.S. last month. Its car sales rose 2.7 percent and its truck sales were up 6.9 percent. Toyota is expected to overtake Ford as the No. 2 automaker in annual U.S. sales after General Motors this year.

"Showroom traffic was strongest from the Midwest through the Gulf states," Jim Lentz, Toyota's top U.S. sales official, said in a statement. "In Southern California, wildfires crimped a key market already impacted by the housing downturn."

Auto analysts predicted another slow sales month industrywide, with Ford falling hardest. As they have for months, jittery consumers have put off big-ticket purchases in response to the troubled housing market and high gas prices.

Nissan bucked the trend with an increase of 13 percent for the month, largely due to strong sales of the new Altima sedan and Versa subcompact. Nissan said its new Rouge crossover also was exceeding expectations, with more than 5,000 sold in its first full month on the market.

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. There were 26 sales days last month and 25 in October 2006.