GM Sales Fall Less Than Expected, Topping Toyota

General Motorssurprised investors with a sales decline that was much less steep than expected, and the company's shares skyrocketed higher.

A Chevrolet dealership in Loveland, Colorado.
David Zalubowski
A Chevrolet dealership in Loveland, Colorado.

GM shares fell almost 4 percent Tuesday morning, but radically reversed themselves to catapult as much as 15 percent higher after the company announced its sales figures.

The Detroit automaker saw a U.S. sales decrease of 8.3 percent in June, compared with forecasts among auto analysts of about a 19.3 percent fall.

CNBC reports sales figures on an adjusted basis accounting for the number of selling days in the most recent month compared with the year prior. There were 24 selling days in June, compared with 27 days a year earlier.

With its performance, GM retained its No. 1 spot in the industry and steered clear of the wipeout many had feared. GM sold a total of 265,937 vehicles in the month, compared with 326,300 in June of last year. The numbers easily outpaced June sales for GM arch-rival Toyota Motor.

Toyota reported a U.S. sales decline of 11.5 percent on an adjusted basis, with total sales reaching 193,234 vehicles, compared with 245,739 last year.

Toyota said its Toyota-brand sales were down 10.3 percent. Sales for its luxury Lexus brand—usually a showroom stalwart—fell 21.1 percent.

Light truck sales were especially hard hit for Toyota, falling to 61,268, down from 100,043 in June of last year.

Toyota shares were down less than 1 percent Tuesday.

Overall among all manufacturers, both foreign and domestic, U.S. light vehicle sales fell by about 2 million units during the month. Sales ran at about a 13.6 million adjusted annual rate in June compared with a 15.7 million rate a year earlier, auto industry tracking firm Autodata said on Tuesday.

Ford Motor reported another month of year-over-year sales declines, with consumers buying far fewer trucks in June than they did this time last year as high gas prices and a weak economy deepened the trouble facing the company.

Overall sales at Ford dropped by 19.1 percent, slightly worse than the 17.8 automotive analysts had forecast.

Sales dropped to 174,091 vehicles in June from 242,029 vehicles a year earlier, including all the automaker's brands, Ford said.

The picture for trucks was much more grim for Ford than car sales were, with the company selling 27 percent fewer of the larger vehicles, compared with 1 percent fewer cars.

The company blames the decline on high gas prices and low consumer confidence that are sending buyers to the sidelines. Ford reports steep drops in sales of pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.

Ford shares rose almost 2 percent after GM reported its sales results. Prior to the release of GM's June figures, Ford shares were down more than 4 percent.

Smaller Japanese automaker Honda Motor said on Tuesday its U.S. sales rose 13.8 percent in June on an adjusted basis, the only major automaker so far to show a gain in sales for the month.

Honda, which has the most fuel-efficient line-up of any major manufacturer, said sales of its Fit subcompact sedan more than doubled to a record 10,003 in the month.

Total car sales were up 34.2 percent at 97,639.

At privately held Chrysler, June U.S. sales of 117,456 automobiles marked an adjusted 27.9 percent drop year-over-year.

US Automakers' Shares Take Lumps

On Monday, GM shares plummeted at one point to $10.57. The last time GM shares dropped below that point was on Sept. 22, 1954, when they hit $10.47, according to the Center for Research in Security Prices at the University of Chicago. The price is adjusted for splits and other changes.

The automakers' shares have taken a beating in recent weeks, hurt by rising oil prices and a weak U.S. economy. Those same factors also have driven consumers away from gas guzzling sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks and toward smaller, more fuel efficient cars and crossovers.

U.S. auto sales had already fallen for seven straight months as of May, the longest period of consecutive monthly drops in eight years, according to the auto information Web site

When customers do buy, they're picking smaller cars, crossovers and hybrids. The demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles has been a boon to Japanese automakers such as Toyota and Honda, which rely less heavily on trucks and sport utility vehicles than the Detroit Three.

Oil Prices Not Helping

Light, sweet crude for August delivery rose to above $141 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange on worries about a potential conflict between Iran and Israel and a weakening dollar.

Both GM and Ford, along with privately held Chrysler, have cut production in recent weeks and announced plans to shift more of their focus and resources toward small vehicles.

On Monday, Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Chrysler said it would close one St. Louis-area plant and cut a shift from another because of declining demand for minivans and pickups.

- Wire services contributed to this article.