The 4 percent gain in sales was below the 10 percent rise forecast by sales tracker Edmunds.com. And the gain was attributable mostly to the comparison to weak August 2005 sales, after GM's June and July sales got a big lift from its popular "employee pricing" incentive.
GM did see about the same gain in sales in both its car and its truck models. And the company said its retail sales, which excludes fleet sales to businesses, rose 8 percent in August.
GM also said it would cut its North American production target by 12 percent, or 150,000 units. It said the reduction comes as it ramps up assembly lines for new versions of its full-size pickups and in the midst of an ongoing reduction in sales to rental car companies, rather than being prompted by any reduced sales outlook.
GM shares rose about 2 percent in afternoon trading.
Further sales slide at Ford
No. 2 U.S. automaker Ford Motor (Charts) reported that U.S. sales of its key light truck models plunged 20 percent in August. But car models rose 8.5 percent from a year earlier.
High gasoline prices hit sales of pickups and SUVs, leaving total sales off nearly 12 percent at 255,122 vehicles, about in line with the forecast of sales tracker Edmunds.com. For the year to date, U.S. sales are down nearly 10 percent.
George Pipas, Ford's U.S. sales analysis manager, said that year-over-year sales comparison should be much easier in the coming months because, unlike GM, Ford was still seeing strong August sales a year ago thanks to its own employee pricing offer.
But he said that the sales of large truck and SUV models will likely continue to be hurt by high gasoline prices.
"I think there is still more fallout to occur in that category," he said when asked about the future of SUV sales. "Many consumers have either opted out or decided they will opt out over the next 12 to 18 months."
Ford stock sank about 2 percent in midday trading. The stock jumped 25 percent last month as Ford said it would announce new restructuring plans in September to try to stem ongoing losses.
In July Ford (Charts) saw U.S. sales fall behind Toyota Motor (Charts) for the first time. Even with the decline in Ford sales and another gain in Toyota sales, Ford was at least able to edge back into the No. 2 sales position in August.
Toyota reported a 12.6 percent gain in August sales when adjusted for an extra sales day. Overall sales rose 17 percent to 240,178. Light truck sales rose an adjusted 8.6 percent, while car sales jumped 15.5 percent.
The Toyota sales total was just a touch weaker than the Edmunds forecasts, although it was enough to stay ahead of DaimlerChrysler for the No. 3 position in U.S. sales.
DaimlerChrysler (Charts) reported a 7 percent rise in U.S. sales for its luxury Mercedes brand, but its core Chrysler Group unit saw a 4 percent drop, leading to a 3 percent drop in sales overall. Edmunds had expected Chrysler to post a 12 percent decline in sales in the month.
Honda Motor seemed to buck the trend of other automakers, reporting a gain in sales of its truck models, led by a 15 percent gain for its large SUV, the Pilot, coupled with a 10 percent drop in sales of its car models. Its overall sales decline came to 3.2 percent, or 6.7 percent when adjusted for differences in sales days. Those were weaker results than Edmunds forecast.
Meanwhile, Nissan (Charts) also reported lower U.S. sales. The company, which is in talks with GM about possibly joining its alliance with Renault, saw sales fall 6.3 percent last month, led by a 26 percent drop at its luxury Infinity unit.
Still, Edmunds had forecast an 8 percent decline in sales at Nissan overall, so the sales were better than expected.
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