Wednesday, 03 September 2008 14:55

Toyota, Honda and Detroit 3 have Sales declines; Nissan rises

Automotive News is reporting that August was another tough month in the United States for Toyota Motor Corp. and the Detroit 3, while Nissan Motor Co. posted a solid gain.

Altogether, the industry sold 1.25 million vehicles in the month, down 15.5 percent from August 2007. For the year to date, sales are down 11.2 percent to 9.8 million vehicles sold.

Toyota's U.S. sales in August fell 9.4 percent to 211,533 vehicles. For the first eight months, Toyota said its U.S. sales fell 7.8 percent to 1.65 million vehicles.

General Motors said sales fell 20.3 percent in the month and are down 18.1 percent for the year to date compared with the same period of 2007.

At Ford Motor Co., August sales slipped 25.5 percent from last year to 151,021 vehicles. Ford said it sold 1.41 million vehicles through August, down 15.3 percent from the same period last year.

Chrysler LLC, with only two nameplates recording gains, said U.S. sales fell 34 percent in August and are down 24 percent for the year. Chrysler noted in a statement that sales improved 12 percent over July.

Toyota struggles

Toyota said August sales for luxury-brand Lexus dropped 9.1 percent from the same month a year ago to 29,281 units. Lexus sales slipped 14.7 percent for the year to date compared with the same eight months of 2007.

In a declining market with consumers acutely aware of high fuel prices, Toyota's August highlight was the Camry and Camry Hybrid, which gained 3.3 percent to 44,064 units. But sales of the smaller Corolla fell 3.4 percent to 29,443. And the youth-oriented Scion sub-brand, which is included in Toyota Division totals, lost 19.7 percent to 11,867 units.

Toyota's biggest losses in August came in SUVs, down 24.8 percent to 30,422 units, and pickups, off 17.6 percent to 70,474 vehicles. Tacoma pickup sales fell 17.8 percent to 12,407 units.

Toyota could have sold more small cars if it had more in its inventory. Toyota now has a 16-day supply of the Yaris, a 24-day supply of the Corolla and a two-day supply of the Prius. Camry was the second-best selling vehicle in America last month behind the surprising Chevy Silverado.

"Camry is ahead of last year's number. If it's not a record (year-to-date) number, it's close to it," said Irv Miller, group vice president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.

Conversely, Toyota has slashed dealer stocks of the Tundra pickup with its production stoppage. Toyota says it has about 37,000 Tundras in inventory, about a 67-day supply, down about 12,000 units from last month. Despite Tundra sales being down 8 percent, if Toyota were to sell as many Tundras all year as it did in August, it would break its internal target of 200,000 trucks for the year.

"We see August as a marginal improvement over July. There is not a lot of reason to go running down the street with balloons and flags because there are still energy, housing and credit issues," Miller said. "People are still nervous. But we are cautiously optimistic that August might be the start of pulling us out from where we were."

Ford lowers production again

Slowing sales have pushed Ford Motor to again lower production. In a statement, Ford said it would produce 890,000 vehicles in the second half of 2008, a reduction of 50,000 vehicles.

Lower demand for light trucks accounted for much of Ford's August sales decline. Ford said SUV sales dipped 53 percent from last year, while pickups were down 39 percent from a year ago.

But two Ford vehicles turned in strong sales performances in August. The compact Focus, freshly redesigned and easy on gasoline, saw a 23 percent increase over a year ago.

The restyled Ford Escape crossover saw a 17 percent bump in sales. The Escape can be ordered with a four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic and a powertrain that delivers 28 mpg on the highway.

Ford also lowered its industry sales forecast for the year to the low end of the 14.0 million units it previously believed would be sold for 2008.

There was more bad news for Ford's Volvo unit. Volvo's U.S. sales plummeted 48.8 percent to 4,669 vehicles in August. For the first eight months of 2008, Volvo sold 55,974 vehicles in the United States, down 22.8 percent from the same period a year ago.

Ford's August sales figures do not include Jaguar and Land Rover, which were sold to Tata Motors Ltd. in June.

Honda down, but gains on Ford

American Honda Motor Co., which has bucked downward trends most of the year, said it sold 146,855 vehicles in August, a 7.3 percent decline from August 2007.

American Honda still came within about 5,000 units of passing the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands in August. Lack of availability of the redesigned Fit compact sent its sales plunging 25.1 percent even though year-to-date sales are up 54.9 percent.

But Civic sales increased substantially as consumers chose that vehicle as an alternative, leading it past rival the Toyota Corolla. While the mid-sized crossover segment continues to be weak, the redesigned Pilot showed a surprising 18.6 percent increase.

"Meeting the demand for fuel-efficient vehicles remains a priority," Dick Colliver, executive vice president of sales for American Honda, said in a statement.

"In addition to the Civic and Civic Hybrid, the sales increase of the all-new Pilot shows that fuel-efficient technologies such as our variable cylinder management system are being well-received in Honda's light-truck segment."

Other companies reporting:

• Nissan Motor Co., in somewhat of a surprise, said its U.S. sales rose 13.6 percent in August to 108,493 vehicles, as easing gasoline prices increased demand for large trucks and SUVs. Nissan sales are up 1 percent for the year to date.

Nissan-brand sales were up 14.2 percent to 97,417 vehicles in August, driven by a 32.6 percent jump in light-truck sales, Al Castignetti, vice president and general manager of Nissan Division, told Reuters. Sales of its luxury Infiniti brand increased 8 percent to 11,076 units for the month.

• Chrysler LLC grappled with slow sales across the board. Steven Landry, Chrysler executive vice president of North America sales, said his company's decision to stop offering leasing through its captive finance company, Chrysler Financial, had an impact on Chrysler sales. Chrysler leased only about 2,000 vehicles in August 2008, compared with about 24,000 in August 2007, he said.

• Mazda North American Operations said it sold 23,680 vehicles in August, a drop of 4.4 percent from the same month a year ago. Year to date, Mazda said it sold 199,239 vehicles, down 2.0 percent from the same eight months of 2007. Mazda said its Mazda3 car, Mazda5 minivan and CX-9 crossover posted record monthly results.

"August sales showed that customers' focus on smaller, smarter, more efficient vehicles is sharper than ever, in the face of still-steep fuel prices and continued monetary uncertainties," said Jim O'Sullivan, CEO of Mazda North American Operations.

• Daimler AG: The parent company of Mercedes-Benz and Smart saw U.S. August sales of 20,952, down 0.2 percent from August 2007. Smart sold 2,420 units in August, bringing its seven-month total to 16,378 in its debut year in the United States. For the year to date, Daimler sales rose 10.8 percent to 175,047 vehicles.

• Porsche: Sales dipped 45 percent to 1,516 vehicles in August. Porsche executives said the 911 sports car caused much of the decline. A new model with direct fuel injection and other upgrades is three weeks away from showrooms. But sales of all other Porsche models also were down.

• Volkswagen AG's August sales, on the strength of the long-awaited Jetta diesel, increased 2.9 percent over a year ago. In August, Volkswagen sold 22,292 units, up from 21,655 last year. VW's yearly sales are 1.3 percent over a year ago.

Jetta sales totaled 11,217 in August, the model's best month in two years. The new Jetta TDi is available in all 50 states.

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