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GM Leads January Sales With Rise

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General Motors posted a sales increase for January, showing some newfound muscle and picking up nearly two points of market share despite an industry-wide drop in sales.

GM’s rivals, including Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Subaru, Hyundai, Kia and Volkswagen, all reported lower sales during January.
Hyundai’s sales dropped 22 percent. “We are disappointed with our sales results and recognize this is a challenging sales environment and the industry overall is struggling," said Dave Zuchowski, Hyundai Motor America's vice president of national sales. "We are hopeful that the government's proposed fiscal stimulus package and our newly announced incentives will get us back on track in February."

Overall, despite the seemingly dismal economic news and drop in sales in January, automakers were generally and surprisingly upbeat about the outlook for 2008. The drop in interest rates and the economic stimulus package making its way through Congress will shore up sales later this year, they noted. In addition inventories of unsold vehicles remain under tight control.

The most optimistic predictions, however, came from GM.

“It was a very strong month,” said Mike DiGiovanni, GM’s executive director of global market analysis. “These are very strong results vis a vis how we’re positioned in a slowing economy. We feel we’re in the right place at the right time with our portfolio,” he said.

“We’re back in the passenger car business,” said Mark LaNeve, GM vice president of sales, service and marketing. “On a retail basis we’ve been up for the last five months. The dealers feel they’re in pretty good shape.”

Ford, Lincoln and Mercury sales totaled 148,355, down 4 percent compared with a year ago. Total Ford Motor Company sales, including Jaguar, Land Rover, and Volvo, were 159,914, down 4 percent. The decline wasn’t a big surprise, given the steady, planned drop in fleet sales, Ford officials said.

“We’re very pleased with these results,” said Jim Farley, Ford’s group vice president, Marketing and Communications. “It’s not going to get any easier, at least for awhile.”

Farley also said Ford was rapidly shifting away from its dependence on trucks. Passenger cars and crossover vehicles accounted for 54 percent of Ford’s total sales in January, the highest percentage in years, he said. The Focus, Fusion, Milan and MKZ are continuing to do well.

The next wave of new Ford products will arrive this summer include the Ford Flex crossover and the MKS sedan. A new Ford F-150 pickup truck will debut later in the fall, Farley said.

Chrysler also reported a 12-percent drop in sales but Steve Landry, Chrysler vice president of sales, said the decline reflected the company’s decision to pull back from fleet sales. Dealers orders for February have actually outstripped the company’s production capacity for February, he said.

“We’re actually setting up quite well for the spring season,” he said.

Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., reported a 2.3-percent sales drop.

"On the retail front, consumers are sitting in the catbird's seat, with falling interest rates and a competitive market giving rise to showroom values," said Jim Lentz, TMS president. "On the product front, the migration toward passenger cars dovetails nicely with February's launch of the all-new Corolla and Matrix."

American Honda Motor Co. posted January total vehicle sales of 98,511, a decline of 2.3 percent compared to January 2007 results. Honda Division posted January sales of 87,343, a decline of 0.5 percent while Acura sales slide 14.3 percent. "We're seeing real strength in our compact and subcompact vehicles," said Dick Colliver, executive vice president of sales for American Honda. "Honda products like the Civic, CR-V and Fit are proving to be solid performers in these turbulent economic times."

Nissan North America Inc. also reported sales dropped 7.3 percent in January from the prior year.

Kia also reported a 5-percent drop in sales. "It is a tough economic climate but fuel-efficient vehicles like Rio and Spectra continue to sell well even as gas prices remain high," said Len Hunt, president and CEO of KMA. "We saw a good start in what is typically a slow month and in what is predicted to be a tough year in the auto industry.”

Volkswagen said its sales fell 13.2 percent in sales. On the other hand, Mercedes-Benz sales increased 7 percent on strong sales of the new C-Class and the M-Class. Audi of America, Inc. a sales increase of three-tenths of percent from last year's figures.--Joseph Szczesny
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