Jan. Sales Slump in Detroit



Toyota started 2007 as the nation's number-two automaker, as Ford continued to lose ground not only to its Japanese rival but also to DaimlerChrysler AG, which managed to squeeze into third place.

The dismal showing by Ford was not unexpected and Ford had taken the precaution of bringing reporters in for a special briefing the day before releasing its monthly sales report to explain the company's decision to reduce sales to daily rental fleets, which trimmed the company's sales by more than 20 percent in January.


“Where we are in sales races and sales rankings or where people forecast that we're going to be is a distraction that we're not going to be bothered with,'' George Pipas, Ford's top sales analyst, said during a conference call with industry analysts and reporters. Pipas said instead, the company is focused on fixing its ailing North American business for the long term.


Some analysts are predicting Ford will be relegated permanently to the third or fourth position in U.S. sales this year.

Like Ford, General Motors also recorded a double-digit sales decline in January, taking some of the bloom off its turnaround pitch. New car sales dropped 22.5 percent for the month, while sales of light trucks and sport-utility vehicles dropped 11.5 percent, despite the introduction of the new Silverado.


“I would conclude that January certainly was not a stellar month,'' Paul Ballew, GM's executive director of global market and industry analysis, said during the company's monthly conference call on sales. GM held its own in key segments at the retail level but the company is still committed to trimming its sales to rental companies during the first half of the year, he added. GM's rental sales dropped 40 percent from January of last year, said Ballew, who noted the reduction in fleet sales is instrumental to the company's long-term goal of boosting residual value.

Meanwhile, the Chrysler Group reported a 0.5-percent sales increase and Mercedes-Benz had record sales, with a 37-percent rise in January. Overall, DaimlerChrysler sold 173,377 vehicles in January, the German-American automaker reported. Chrysler said its January sales were driven by solid retail sales, while fleet sales were down by a single digit. The company said it only gives specific fleet sales numbers on a quarterly basis.


Japanese automakers continued to pick up market share as Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, and Subaru all posted sales increases last month. Kia had record sales but Hyundai sales dropped eight percent in the face of renewed competition from its Japanese competitors.

Toyota continued to set a torrid sales pace as it outran its American and Japanese competitors. The Japanese automaker reported its sales climbed 9.5 percent in January. Toyota's car sales climbed 13.1 percent in January, while truck sales rose 5 percent. Jim Farley, Toyota's vice president of marketing, said the company had succeeded in selling out its remaining stocks of 2006 Tundra pickup trucks last month.

Toyota said sales, which include the Toyota and Lexus brands, were the best ever for January, while the Camry rose 14.7 percent. The Prius and RAV4 also made gains.

BMW reported a disappointing start to the year as its sales dropped 1.8 percent. Porsche also reported an 8-percent sales decline.

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