GM, Ford sales plunge, Chrysler falls to No. 4

Slide continues for GM and Ford sales, while Chrysler posts slim gain; Toyota tops Ford for month, DaimlerChrysler for full-year U.S. sales.

By Chris Isidore, senior writer

NEW YORK ( -- General Motors and Ford Motor ended a difficult year with another plunge in U.S. sales, while Chrysler Group reported an unexpected rise in sales in the month, although it wasn't enough to stop its parent, DaimlerChrysler, from falling to fourth place in full-year U.S. sales for the first time.

GM (Charts) sales fell 13 percent in the month, although the automaker reported sales on per-selling-day basis that showed only a 9.7 percent decline. The fall left GM with sales 8.7 percent lower in 2006 than the year before.

GM posted weaker than expected sales of its new line of pickup trucks.
GM posted weaker than expected sales of its new line of pickup trucks.
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The slide at GM in December was much worse than had been forecast. Auto sales tracker had forecast only a 5.2 percent drop for the largest U.S. automaker in raw terms, and sales down only narrowly on a per-sales day. Shares of Dow component GM plunged about 5 percent following the report.

Still, Mark LaNeve, a GM vice president, said in the statement that GM's December sales topped internal sales targets, especially in full-size pickup trucks and SUVs, where GM debuted new models in 2006.

Alex Rosten, Manager of market analysis for Edmunds, said he thinks that much of the problem in GM sales was that it was offering a 2007 model pick-up with little or no incentives to induce buyers, while Dodge and Ford were making big cash-back and other offers to move their glut of 2006 model pickups still on dealers' lots.

"It shows people were shopping for the best deal, not the newest product," said Rosten. "Dodge's incentives hit $4,400, which was roughly double what GM offered. But in a nutshell, it wasn't bad news for GM because they're making more money on the vehicles they're selling. Once the '06's are gone, the next six months should be solid for GM trucks."

Ford, Chrysler lose ground to Toyota

Ford Motor (Charts) reported that U.S. sales fell 12.8 percent from December a year earlier. As bad as that was, it was better than the forecast of nearly a 20 percent drop made by, and George Pipas, Ford's manager of sales analysis, said Ford topped its internal target and regained lost market share in December after falling short of its own forecasts in November. Ford shares were little changed on the report.

Still the nation's No. 2 automaker ended the year with sales of 2.9 million vehicles, off 7.9 percent from 2005 total. And it could well be in the No. 3 position in U.S. sales in 2007.

Ford's December sales were once again less than reported by Toyota Motor (Charts), and its current U.S. market share, which Pipas estimates at 14.8 percent, would likely put it behind Toyota's share in 2007. The Japanese automaker, which is also expected to pass GM in global sales in 2007, had better than 15 percent of the U.S. market in 2006.

While sales of Ford's car models posted a 5.4 percent rise, its light truck models saw sales tumble 14.3 percent. That was crucial for the company, which depends on sales of the more expensive pickups and SUVs for its profits. Even with the plunge, light truck models account for 62 percent of sales.

Ford's F-series pickup truck - the best selling U.S. vehicle - saw sales off 21 percent in December from year earlier levels, and saw full-year sales down nearly 12 percent, dropping more than 100,000. Pipas blamed the combination of gas prices and a weak home-building market for the decline, as the pickup is popular with builders.

Chrysler reported its U.S. sales gained 1 percent to 190,415 vehicles in the month, up 1 percent from year-earlier sales. had been looking for a 6.7 percent decline in sales for the period.

But Mercedes-Benz, the luxury brand which, like Chrysler, is owned by DaimlerChrysler (Charts), reported a 10 percent drop in sales, leaving the overall company with a 1 percent drop in U.S. sales in December from a year earlier.

Even with better-than-expected November results, Chrysler ended the year with U.S. sales of 2.1 million, off 7 percent from 2005, while Mercedes gained 11 percent for the year. That left DaimlerChrysler's sales here down 5 percent to 2.4 million vehicles.

The result dropped DaimlerChrysler into fourth place in U.S. sales for a full year for the first time.

Toyota meanwhile posted a slightly-better-than 12 percent rise in both December and full-year sales, topping Edmunds forecasts. Its full year sales came in at 2.5 million, and the company is likely poised for more gains in 2007 as it introduces a full-size pickup for the first time and continues to offer fuel efficient cars for those concerned about gasoline prices.

Like Toyota, Honda Motor (Charts) also reported record U.S. sales for the full year, although its December sales were narrowly lower than a year earlier, it topped Edmunds' forecast. The sales tracker is looking for the other major Japanese automaker, Nissan (Charts), to report a drop in December sales later in the day Wednesday.

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