US Auto Sales Slide in May as Buyers Spurn Trucks

General Motors and Ford reported sharp falls in U.S. auto sales in May, with sales of trucks hit especially hard as consumers shied away from automobiles with low gas mileage. Toyota Motor, meanwhile, reported a smaller decline.

Woman looks at new Toyota Camry on dealer lot
Woman looks at new Toyota Camry on dealer lot

For the first time ever, the Japanese automakers outsold the U.S. automakers. 48.1 percent to 44.4 percent.

Also for the first time, GM's market share fell below 20 percent of the U.S. market, to 19 percent.

GM reported a 30.2 percent fall in May sales, led by a 39 percent decline in truck sales.

CNBC reports monthly auto sales on an adjusted basis, compensating for the number of sales days in the month compared with the same month the year before. May 2008 had 27 selling days, versus 26 in May of last year.

GM's overall sales fell to 272,363 vehicles in May from 375,682 in the same month a year earlier.

Shares of General Motors fell more than 1 percent after the company announced the sales drop, reversing gains of as much 4 percent from earlier in the session.

Ford said overall auto sales fell 19.1 percent, compared with market watchers' prediction of a 16.1 percent decline.

Sales fell to 217,998 vehicles in May from 259,470 a year earlier, including all of the automaker's brands, Ford said.

Truck sales plunged 29 percent for Ford, while its car sales declined 1 percent from last year.

The Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker also said it still expects to produce 690,000 vehicles during the second quarter and narrowed its third-quarter production estimate to 525,000 vehicles, near the midpoint of a range the company projected in May.

Fourth-quarter production is still expected to total between 590,000 and 630,000 units, Ford said.

Ford warned last month that it no longer expects to turn a profit in 2009 as runaway fuel prices undercut sales of its most profitable pickups and SUVs.

Sales at privately held Chrysler fell 28 percent on an adjusted basis. Chrysler said sales were pressured by declining demand for large pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.

Chrysler said its total sales fell to 148,747 vehicles in May for its Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands, down from 199,393 a year earlier.

The company ended May with inventory of 412,009 vehicles, or a 75-day supply, down 14 percent from a year earlier.

Things Less Dire for Japanese Automakers

Toyota on Tuesday reported a 7.9 percent fall in May U.S. auto sales to 257,404 vehicles after adjusting for the extra selling day in the month compared with the same month a year earlier.

Toyota said its Toyota-brand sales were down 6.3 percent. Sales for its luxury Lexus brand fell 19.6 percent.

The Toyota Camry and Corolla sedans each outsold the traditionally top-selling Ford F-series truck in May, a sign of the rapid shift in customers' preferences from trucks and SUVs to small cars that is forcing painful production cuts and plant closures at GM and Ford.

Honda Motor, meanwhile, fared better than the competition, Japanese or otherwise.

Honda said its U.S. sales rose 11.3 percent in May after adjusting for the number of selling days, a gain that bucked a downtrend for the U.S. industry as a whole.

Honda, which has the most fuel-efficient line-up of any major manufacturer, said sales of its compact Civic sedan rose 28.3 percent to a record 53,299 in the month.

Nissan Motor also posted a sales increase, moving 4.4 percent more vehicles for a May tally of 100,874 units.

Pain at the Pump Influences Buyers

U.S. light vehicle sales dropped 9 percent to 4.82 million units in the first four months of 2008, led by an 18 percent drop in truck sales and a 26 percent plunge in SUV sales.

Rising gas prices and a corresponding shift toward more fuel-efficient cars and crossovers have hit Detroit-based automakers, with their truck-heavy lineups, particularly hard.

GM, the No. 1 U.S. automaker, is still holding out hope for a second-half recovery, although executives have acknowledged any recovery would be less robust than they had expected earlier this year.

GM and Ford have responded to a weak market by cutting production plans for the rest of the year, but their truck inventories are still high at nearly four months of supply, according to JPMorgan analyst Himanshu Patel.

In the first four months of the year, sales of small cars rose 6 percent from a year earlier despite a falling overall market, according to Autodata.

- Wire services contributed to this report.