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News > Companies
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December auto sales up
graphic January 3, 2002: 6:47 p.m. ET

GM halts market share slide; strong finish lifts industry to second-best year.
By Staff Writer Chris Isidore
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  • GM to roll out 2002 rebates - Jan. 3, 2002
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  • Ford Motor Co.
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    NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - U.S. auto sales climbed in December as the industry brought a difficult year to a strong end.

    General Motors Corp., the world's leading automaker, which started the incentive war that sparked a fourth-quarter buying spree by customers, sold 358,748 cars and light trucks in the United States, up 6.8 percent from the December 2000 figure. Full-year U.S. light vehicle sales came in at 4.9 million, off 1.1 percent.

    The other major automakers, both overseas and domestic, also posted gains in December sales. Overall U.S. sales in December rose 5.7 percent to 1.3 million cars and light trucks, such as pickups, minivans and sport/utility vehicles, according to sales tracker Autodata. That brought total U.S. light vehicle sales for the year to 17.2 million, down 1.3 percent from 2000's record sales but strong enough to be the industry's second-best year on record.

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    Auto stocks were higher across the board in Thursday trading, as the strong end to the year topped most expectations, and raised hopes that 2002 sales may remain stronger than expected. But GM (GM: Research, Estimates) and Ford Motor Co. executives said they're still looking for full-year sales to drop to about 15.5 million-to-15.0 million vehicles this year.

    Ford (F: Research, Estimates), the world's No. 2 automaker, sold 281,158 vehicles in the United States in December, up from 275,095 a year earlier. That brought sales for the year to just under 4.0 million, down about 6 percent from the 4.2 million sold in 2000.

    Chrysler Group said its U.S. vehicle sales rose 6 percent last month as gains in trucks reversed a decline in car sales. The North American Unit of DaimlerChrysler (DCX: Research, Estimates) said car sales fell 3 percent to 37,270 units, while truck sales rose 9 percent to 140,731 vehicles. For 2001 as a whole, Chrysler's sales fell 10 percent to 2.5 million vehicles.

    Overseas automakers post gains

    Japan's and Europe's leading automakers continued to post gains for the year in U.S. sales, even as the traditional Big Three saw full-year sales fall. Toyota Corp. (TM: Research, Estimates) set its sixth straight U.S. annual sales record as December sales of 144,202 brought 2001 sales up 8 percent to 1.7 million vehicles.

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    The Honda Accord recaptured the title of the best-selling U.S. car in 2001.
    Honda Motor Co. (HMC: Research, Estimates) posted its best December in terms of U.S. sales, giving it record annual U.S. sales of 1.2 million. It also recaptured the title of the best-selling U.S. car for its Accord, which passed Toyota's Camry with sales of 414,718.

    European and Korean automakers also gained market share in the United States in 2001, helped by the strong value of the dollar. Volkswagen, Audi, BMW and Hyundai all reported improved U.S. sales last year, with all but Volkswagen setting company sales records in the United States during the period.

    GM halts market share slide

    But while Ford and Chrysler Group lost market share, GM stopped the decade-long slide in that closely watched measure. It accounted for 28.5 percent of the overall U.S. light vehicle sales market, according to figures from sales tracker Autodata. While that's only nominally above its 2000 share, it marks the first time since 1990, when it controlled 35.5 percent of the U.S. market, that GM has shown an increased share.

    GM executives said they posted even greater gains in retail sales share, as fleet sales fell even harder during the year than overall sales. It was the first time in about 15 years that GM showed any gains in retail sales share, according to Paul Ballew, GM's executive director for market and industry analysis.

    Still, GM reaffirmed its first-quarter production estimates, saying it expects to build about 1.3 million vehicles in North America during the next three months. That's just ahead of the 1.29 million it produced in the fourth quarter, as well as beating the 1.21 million built in the first quarter of 2001.

    Both GM and Ford said it was consumers, rather than businesses, that kept sales in high gear in December, as both reported sharply lower fleet sales. GM said retail sales climbed 15 percent in the month compared with the overall 7 percent gain in overall sales. One of the biggest reasons for declining fleet sales was a drop in purchases by car rental companies, which have seen their own business drop with the steep decline in air travel since Sept. 11.

    Overall auto sales already were trailing the 2000 sales pace before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and fell sharply in the two weeks immediately following. But aggressive incentives, such as zero-interest financing on many new models, brought buyers flooding back to dealers in late September and produced the industry's best sales month in history in October.

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    The incentives have continued, supporting sales but hurting manufacturers' profitability. Thursday GM announced it will offer $2,002 in incentives on new vehicles, a move likely to be matched by other automakers. But Jim O'Connor, president of the Ford Division, said he wasn't quite sure what Ford's response would be to the new GM offer.

    Trucks top cars for the first time

    The year marked the first time that light trucks outpaced cars in terms of total U.S. sales. Autodata's statistics showed 8.8 million light trucks, or about 50.9 percent of the market, compared with 8.4 million traditional cars. Some so-called "hybrid" vehicles, such as Chrysler's PT Cruiser, are considered cars by some observers and light trucks by others, so the precise percentage varies based on who is doing the counting.

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    Ford and DaimlerChrysler's North American Chrysler unit have seen their cumulative sales tilt toward trucks for several years. They were joined last year by GM, which sold more light trucks than cars for the first time in 2001. GM car sales fell 10.2 percent to 2.3 million vehicles, while GM's light truck sales gained 8.6 percent to 2.6 million. Also, 2001 saw a gain in sales of sport/utility vehicles, minivans and pickups by overseas manufacturers as they brought new products to the market. graphic

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